WASILLA -- Service was the only hockey team to beat Dimond last season, knocking off the Lynx in a semifinal game at the state tournament. Tonight the Cougars will get a chance to repeat the feat, but this time the opportunity to spoil Dimond's perfect season will come in the championship game.
Service earned its spot in the First National Cup final by beating defending state champion South 3-2 with a goal in the final minutes Friday at the Menard Sports Center. Dimond advanced by dominating Lathrop 4-0.
For Service seniors Matthew Meszaros and Garrett Brown, connecting on the game-winning goal gave them plenty to celebrate. Both were on the team that suffered a double-overtime loss in last season's championship game against the Wolverines, who until Friday had never lost a state tournament game to Service.
"South's always flashing their rings at us," Brown said.
But Meszaros said the best part about setting up Brown for the game-winner was the fact the two are cousins.
"I heard my cousin calling for the puck, so I flipped it toward him and hoped for the best," he said.
The goal came with 3:47 remaining when Meszaros took possession of the puck on the left side of the net. He spun toward center ice and zipped a pass to Brown, who was waiting in front of the right goal post.
"I was standing backdoor waiting for the puck," Brown said. "I was screaming 'backdoor' at the top of my lungs."
The pass found Brown's stick and he quickly flipped it in the net before being mobbed by his teammates.
Second-year Service coach Joel Carter called the win a special one because of the intense rivalry with South.
"It's been that monkey on our backs," he said. "It's sort of a vindication for the kids."
Carter said he looks forward to facing Dimond tonight and thinks all the pressure will be on the Lynx to maintain a perfect season.
"We have nothing to lose," he said.
Dimond is in the state championship game for the ninth time in 12 seasons but they haven't won a title since 2001. They hope to change their luck against Service tonight at 7:30.
It didn't take long for the Lynx to demonstrate against Lathrop why they're undefeated.
Dimond (25-0) scored twice in the first four minutes, taking advantage of an early power play to get the scoring started. The Lynx fired a relentless barrage of shots until senior Shilo Vega scored from the right wing. Dimond junior Dawson Glover followed with another goal less than a minute later and the rout appeared to be on.
"We've preached all year about good starts," Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson said. "We had to get to them early to make it easier on us, and we did that."
There were a few Lathrop players hanging their heads after Dimond's early goals, but the Malemutes regained composure and didn't allow Dimond to run away with the game.
"We kind of settled in," Lathrop coach Shawn Lundgren said. "I felt the second period was one of our better periods."
Lathrop was dramatically outshot 21-6 through two periods but nearly managed to keep the deficit at two goals going into the final frame. When a Drake Glover rocket from the left wing gave Dimond a 3-0 lead with 1:15 left in the second period, things looked bleak for the Malemutes.
"That was the dagger," Lundgren said. "Especially after we had played so well that period."
Dimond's greatest attribute is its depth and the experience that eight seniors bring, Lundgren said.
"Their third line ain't a whole lot different than their first," Lundgren said. "When we won our championship in 2009, we had nine seniors."
Vega, who added one more goal for the Lynx late in the third period, said he's excited about a chance to end his high school hockey career with a state title. Vega played his first season of varsity hockey last season and was part of the team that suffered its only loss of the season in a state semifinal against Service.
"I feel like last year was an unlucky break," Vega said. "It would feel phenomenal to win it all this time."
Winning in the semifinals is always difficult, Sorenson said, because it's easy to think ahead to the title game.
"I think the guys are relieved," he said.
The Lynx are in the state championship game for the sixth time in eight seasons. They failed to win any of those finals -- their last title came in 2000 -- but they hope to change their luck against Service tonight at 7:30.
Dimond was Lathrop's victim when the Malemutes won their 2009 title, so Sorenson and Lundgren are familiar with one another. When it was all over, they shared a laugh while shaking hands at center ice.
"We've been through some battles," Lundgren said. "I told him 'I think this might be your year. You finally got a haircut and cleaned yourself up.' I wish them the best of luck."
4A consolation games
In consolation-bracket games Friday, Wasilla defeated Chugiak 4-1 and West Valley knocked off Palmer 4-2.
Wasilla's William Harren opened the scoring about four minutes in and earned an assist less than a minute later on a Cooper Hanson goal.
Wasilla maintained a 2-0 lead through the first period, but Tyler Painter got Chugiak back within one when he scored the Mustangs' only goal early in the second period off an assist by Kris Tomazevic. Colton Fletcher put the game away with a power-play goal late in the second period and another goal midway through the third.
Wasilla goalie Larry Massie stopped 29 shots, and Chugiak goalie Joe Lindquist stopped 28.
West Valley's win required a comeback that included third-period goals from Keegan O'Brien and Logan Henne.
The score was tied 1-1 after early goals from West Valley's Chris Nicolia and Palmer's Dalton Buness.
Brennan Harrison put Palmer up 2-1 with a goal late in the first period and the Moose held the narrow advantage until the final minute of the second period, when West Valley's Eric Weber evened the score at 2-2.
O'Brien notched the Wolfpack's game-winner with 12:26 remaining in the third period and Henne knocked in an empty-netter in the game's final minute.
West Valley goalie Matt Taylor stopped 15 shots and Palmer goalie Ashton Good stopped 20.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Hutchison and Monroe Catholic turned in convincing wins Friday in the four-team Greatland state hockey tournament at the Menard Sports Complex, setting up a showdown between the two Fairbanks schools in today's final.
Hutchison defeated Delta Junction 5-2 and Monroe shutout Kenny Lake 4-0.
Four players scored for Hutchison, with freshman Thomas Lees scoring the first and final goals.
Gabriel Madore gave Hutchison a 2-0 lead late in the first but Delta's Eli Erickson scored early in the second period to trim the lead to one.
A late second-period goal from Dylan Sands extended the Hawks' lead to two goals, but Delta answered with a strike from Randle Kimball early in the third period.
Hutchison's Dustin Boots scored with 9:31 remaining and Lees sealed it at 6:24. Hutchison outshot Delta 48-15.
Monroe started fast in its win, getting first period goals from Patrick Otis and Glen Gasaway. A power-play goal from Kyle Coiley extended the lead to 3-0 in the second period and Rusty Thurmond tacked on a fourth goal with less than 10 seconds left in the game.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News