WASILLA — Goaltending can prove the great equalizer — masked men can channel their inner thief and steal a hockey game. Or it can furnish great agony – few things deflate a team like porous goaltending.
Thursday in the opening round of the Class 4A state tournament at Menard Ice Arena, a couple of Anchorage teams kept either circumstance from derailing their dreams.
Defending champion Dimond kept pounding away at West Valley’s splendid junior goalie, Matt Taylor, and cruised to a 7-1 victory.
Service, ahead by three goals after two periods, made a curious goaltending switch for the third period, found its lead quickly slashed to one goal, switched goalies again and squeezed out a 3-2 win over Soldotna.
Cook Inlet Conference champion South became the third Anchorage team to advance to Friday’s semifinals with a methodical 3-0 victory over Lathrop.
And West made it a complete sweep for the four Anchorage teams when freshman Alex Bardsley’s fortuitous, perfectly placed wrister at 7 minutes, 1 second of double overtime lifted the Eagles to a 1-0 victory over Wasilla.
Dimond understood it needed to pierce West Valley’s Taylor early — that knowledge came courtesy of a 52-save effort by the junior in Dimond’s 3-2 win over West Valley earlier this season.
Thursday, the Lynx peppered Taylor with 14 shots inside the opening 12 minutes before Drake Glover’s bullet of a wrister on a 2-on-1 opened the scoring — and the floodgates.
Kenny Hausinger beat Taylor from the left circle off a Glover feed less than three minutes later, and the Lynx snapped off four goals in a span of less than five minutes before the second period was half done to seize a 6-0 lead.
Hausinger and Jordan Hill each racked up two goals for the Lynx, who also got goals from Tyler Garcia and Solomon Mabry. Glover finished with one goal and two assists, and linemate Josh Larson added three helpers.
What was paramount for the Lynx, though, was getting to Taylor early.
“It can be frustrating if you don’t get a quick start,’’ Glover said. “If you can get a couple on him, it’ll get his morale down. If you don’t, he’ll get hot and he’ll stay hot.’’
Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson knows Taylor is part of a tradition of Fairbanks goalies who have made their bones in high school hockey by backstopping teams that are often not as strong and deep, on paper or at the rink, as Anchorage teams.
“He is one of those guys,’’ Sorenson said. “We’ve seen enough of those guys out of Fairbanks over the years.
“We wanted better shot selection. We didn’t want to just launch it at him and let him get in a rhythm.’’
If not for Taylor’s 44 saves, the outcome would have been decidedly more lopsided. As it was, his teammates were unable to consistently clear the puck from near his crease. Dimond outshot West Valley, which received its lone goal from Mason Graves, 51-15.
“He’s the best goalie in the state,’’ said West Valley coach Wayne Sawchuk. “I was really disappointed with the way we played in front of him. We played them to 3-2 a few weeks ago, so it was a shocker.
“But credit Dimond — Dennis had ’em ready to play.’’
Jordan MacMillan stopped 14 shots for the Lynx.
Undefeated South led Soldotna 3-0 after two periods, courtesy of second-period strikes from Kirby Graff, Leo Karcz and Karson Frisk. Graff and Frisk struck on the power play.
After two periods, Service led in shots on goal, 18-3. To start the third period, Service coach Joel Carter pulled junior goalie Dustin Fritz to give freshman Takoda Castillo, who beat Soldotna 1-0 earlier this season, some state-tournament experience.
“We had the idea if we could get ahead, we’d get Takoda in net,’’ Carter said.
But Castillo gave up a soft goal to Nick Wrobel on a sharply angled shot from near the goal line and then surrendered another goal to Wrobel, who banged in Shayne Miller’s sweet feed on a 2-on-1, to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Castillo had no chance on Wrobel’s second marker. Still, more than nine minutes remained in regulation, and the control Service once owned had diminished.
“Then I thought we should change goalies again,’’ Carter said.
Fritz didn’t face a shot the rest of the way. At one point, a puck tumbled high toward him — it might have gone over the net if untouched — and he had to flash his blocker to repel the puck.
“Little worried,’’ Graff said of protecting a sudden one-goal lead. “The puck bounces funny.’’
More importantly, though, a young Service team that lost 14 seniors from last season and sports just five seniors this time around has developed confidence from a late-season surge.
“We’ve come a long way,’’ Graff said. “We’ve really come to believe in ourselves. We looked around at the start of the year and thought, ‘What the hell are we gonna do?’ ’’
South’s opening-round win over Lathrop — the business-like Wolverines enjoyed a strong grip on the game throughout — was kick-started by Steven Orizotti’s short-handed breakaway goal in the second period.
That was Orizotti’s second grab at the golden ring. He had a short-handed breakaway in the first period, courtesy of Cameron Klatt’s labor, but came up empty against Lathrop goalie Ian Morey.
Orizotti, who shoots left, made a nifty deke as if to go to his backhand, then pulled the puck to his forehand. Morey didn’t bite on the fake and even tried to poke-check the puck off the stick of Orizotti, who partially fanned on his shot.
“I didn’t think he hit it, but it kind of threw me off,’’ Orizotti said. “I came back into the locker room and said, ‘If I get another one, I’m going to shoot, not deke.’ ’’
The Wolverines were short-handed early in the second period when Orizotti tipped a pass near his own blue line and raced up center ice to collect the puck just inside the Malemutes line for another breakaway.
“The whole time I was skating in, I was thinking: Shoot,’’ Orizotti said.
He rifled a wrist shot over Morey’s glove and just under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead.
Klatt added a power-play goal five minutes into the third period, Cayden Cahill sealed victory with an empty-net goal and Ben Simpson stopped 11 shots for the shutout.
At state, Orizotti said, the only thing that matters is advancing. Past results and reputation are moot.
“We try to emphasize as much as we can that nothing from the regular season matters once you get here,’’ Orizotti said. “One loss here and you’re done.’’
West capped the evening with its thriller over Wasilla, and two freshmen were principal players in a game that had just 59 seconds remaining in the second overtime before Bardsley struck.
West freshman goalie Joe Chekan stopped 25 shots, and among his handiwork were a pair of hold-your-breath moments in double overtime.
First, Chekan stopped Andrew Cooley’s drive from the left point, only to have the rebound strike the chest of Wasilla’s Tanner Schachle and ricochet into Chekan’s crease. The 6-foot-3 netminder reached back and smothered the puck with his glove as it was perilously close to the goal line.
About 75 seconds later, Chekan pushed to the top of his crease to shut down Brett Keene’s semi-breakaway.
That set the stage for Bardsley.
After Wasilla iced the puck three straight times, West’s Max Osgood won a right-circle face-off and drew the puck to Bardsley. Bardsley attempted to pass the puck to hard-shooting defenseman Steven Gustafson at the center point, but his relay hit the skate of a Wasilla player and careened back to the freshman.
“We win the draw, put it back to the point,’’ Bardsley said of the planned play. “If you can’t, do what you have to do and get it on net. I figured I was in good position, so take a shot.’’
Bardsley’s shot from atop the circle was precise and prosperous — he flicked the puck just inside the junction where the left post meets the crossbar, giving Warriors goalie Lauren Massie (29 saves) little shot at stopping it.
For Bardsley, authoring the only goal in double overtime in his state-tournament debut will be tough to top.
“I don’t think I can,’’ he said, “unless it’s triple overtime.’’
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By DOYLE WOODY