One more gem of a defensive effort from South High put the Wolverines one jewel away from high school hockey's triple crown.
The Wolverines earned their first Cook Inlet Conference tournament title since 2013 and their fifth overall with a 3-1 victory over West at jam-packed Ben Boeke Arena on Saturday.
South will head to this week's First National Cup Division I state tournament looking to go 3 for 3 in big-ticket championship items. It won CIC regular-season honors before capturing the CIC tournament title with wins over East, Service and West.
"The chance to do something special with the kids you go to school with is a lifetime experience you won't soon forget," said South senior defenseman JJ Fabeck, one of five Wolverines named to the all-conference team in a post-game ceremony. "It's what we've been working for all year."
South will take a gaudy 23-1-0 record to state at Wasilla's Menard Memorial Sports Complex. The Wolverines have allowed a paltry 21 goals in those 24 games, an average of 0.875 per contest.
An obvious key contributor to the defensive cause, sophomore goaltender Zane Anderson made 14 saves in Saturday's victory and took a spot on the all-conference squad.
"It helps out a ton to have a great goalie back there to get things started from the net on out and a strong group of D-men," said South senior forward Trevor Sawicki, who scored twice. "We're all responsible for taking our guys on defense and it's something we work on every day."
After deftly extinguishing the game's first power-play opportunity, West grabbed a 1-0 lead. Senior Jackson Lindemann pushed the puck through a goalmouth scramble and past Anderson at 8 minutes, 47 seconds of the opening period.
The teams hustled right through the second period with South enjoying a 7-2 shots-on-goal advantage. The Wolverines tied the game at the 4:33 mark when Sawicki deflected senior defenseman Hanbit Yi's shot past all-conference West goalie Connor Batman (23 saves).
Nicholas Corbin handed South the lead for good at 4:16 of the third period. The junior collected Fabeck's rebound and pumped it inside the right post.
Sawicki concluded the scoring with a nifty deflection moving across the slot from right to left at 10:43 of the the third. He was keenly aware of teammate Hunter Schmitz's blast from the right point.
"Hunter was lining it up and we're always thinking about going to front of the net," Sawicki said. "The puck was right there."
Schmitz recorded assists on South's final two goals.
West (16-8-1) reached the tournament title game with an opening-round win against Eagle River on Tuesday and a thrilling 3-2 double-overtime victory over Dimond on Thursday.
"Fair to say that was a bit of a wild ride of emotions," West coach Nathan Shasby said of the win over Dimond. "We likely hadn't fully recovered from it coming into tonight.
"But given the fact no one would have expected us to be here, the players did all I could ask of them."
On Friday, Landon Hill's overtime goal lifted Service past Dimond 4-3 in the tournament's third-place game.
West, Service and Dimond will join South at CIC's representatives at state. In first-round matchups, the Wolverines will skate against Colony, the Eagles play Juneau, the Cougars take on Wasilla and the Lynx collide with West Valley.
Game times will likely be announced by the Alaska School Activities Association on Monday. CIC teams have won all but four Division I state championships since 1983. Lathrop (1986, 1987 and 2009) and Palmer (1989) are the only schools outside the state's largest city to capture hockey glory.
As it heads into the final week of the season, South isn't prepared to take its CIC heavy-hitter and favorite status as anything more than talk.
"We're just going to get ready for our first game (at state)," Fabeck said. "That's all we're going to be focused on, nothing more."
All-Cook Inlet Conference hockey team
Forwards — Jaiden Gibson, Dimond; Blake Hausinger, Dimond; Gavan Hardy, Dimond; Nicholas Eddens, East; Nicholas Austin, Service; Landon Hill, Service; Ty McEnaney, Eagle River; Hunter Schmitz, South; Nicholas Corbin, South; Daniel Casey, Chugiak; Grant Epple, Chugiak; Chase Schwamm, West.
Defensemen — Riley Sloane, West; JJ Fabeck, South; Zac Nelson, South; Jerrett Kindred, Service; Bradley Mackin, Bartlett; Brenden Anaruk, Service.
Goaltenders — Zane Anderson, South; Connor Batman, West.
Coach of the Year — Rodney Wild, Chugiak.
GPA award — Dimond 3.222.
An early version of this story mistakenly omitted Landon Hill's name from the all-conference team.