WASILLA — The Dimond Lynx were a bit battered and bruised emotionally entering the state hockey tournament after losing twice in overtime at the conference tournament.
By the time their work was done Saturday night, the Lynx were all smiles after taking possession of the First National Cup for the first time since 2013 and the eighth time in school history.
Sophomore Dawson Thompson and senior co-captain Jaiden Gibson scored 36 seconds apart early in the third period at the Menard Center to help Dimond secure a 4-2 championship-game triumph over Cook Inlet Conference adversary West.
That's the same West squad that dented Dimond's psyche with a 3-2 double overtime win in the CIC tourney semifinals. Two nights after that, the Lynx dropped an overtime decision to Service in the tournament's third-place contest.
"But our seniors tried and succeeded in getting us comfortable again in our shoes, and our skates," said Dimond freshman defenseman Jack Dolan, who scored a spectacular goal on a rush through the neutral zone in the second period. "They kept telling us this was our year. Once we knew we had the rematch with West, we all got that much hungrier."
Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson, winner of his fifth state crown, said the CIC tourney losses were crushing. But he and assistant coach Chris Higgins trusted their seniors — among them, Gibson, Gavan Hardy (one assist) and Blake Hausinger (one assist) — to turn the tide.
"It was very difficult," said Sorenson, Alaska's winningest high school hockey coach. "We were pretty upset because we felt like we deserved a better fate and kind of let ourselves down.
"But those older guys have been our leaders all year. They proved why in this tournament."
Dolan's dazzler at 8 minutes, 17 seconds of the second spotted Dimond a 2-1 lead. But it was his defensive pairing with sophomore Tyler Graeber in the closing seconds that should draw the most rave reviews.
With the Lynx (22-6-0) clinging to a 4-2 lead and West goalie Connor Batman (22 saves) pulled for an extra attacker, the duo lined up with the senior leaders up front to close out the Eagles in the waning moments.
Dimond sophomore goalie Hunter Kattness did his part with 29 saves, including 16 in the final period.
" 'Don't screw up' — it's the first and about the only thing you're thinking," Dolan said. "The stress of the moment takes over because you want to send those seniors and everyone else out on a high note.
"But you do get more self-confidence as the minutes pile up. You just try to come up with that play to get it out of the zone or keep things clear for (Kattness) to see the puck."
Thompson's eventual game-winner came at 2:23 of the third off a centering feed in the slot from Dylan Hoey (two assists). Gibson teamed with Hardy and Hausinger to score in a goalmouth scramble seconds later.
The Eagles (18-9-1) concluded their memorable postseason run with another second-place showing, having lost to South last weekend in the CIC title game. But they left Saturday night with their heads held high.
"I'm happy with everything we accomplished," senior Riley Sloane said. "It's tough right now, but I'm extremely proud to have been part of this team."
Sophomore Nick Opinsky scored West's first goal, and Sloane added a power-play goal in the third period.
Once the game was over and the First National Cup was delivered to Dimond, the Lynx took turns taking spins with it around the ice, sidestepping strewn helmets, sticks, gloves and even a few mouthpieces.
Moments after posing for pictures with his hockey buddies and giving his father Roger a huge hug, Gibson remained giddy.
"As sore as we might have been, we all made a commitment to move on to the next game and state," Gibson said with huge smile on his face. "I believed in everyone on this team, and look where they took us."
Colony 6, Wasilla 3
Colony claimed third place with a 6-3 win over Wasilla, erasing an early three-goal deficit to exact revenge on its Valley rival for last weekend's loss to the Warriors in the North Star Conference championship game loss.
The Knights' Jake Hessinger scored a pair of goals and added two assists and goaltender Cole Doss compiled 29 saves. Colony completed its season with a 19-6-0 record.
Wasilla's Porter Schachle scored a goal and an assist for the Warriors (19-8-3).
South 9, Juneau-Douglas 3
South exploded for four first-period goals and capped its 26-2-0 season with a 9-3 victory over Juneau-Douglas in the tournament's fourth-place game.
Nicolas Corbin scored twice for the Wolverines. Logan Orr and Hunter Schmitz each added a goal and two assists.
Bill Bosse scored twice for Juneau (7-13-0). Crimson Bears goaltender Cody Mitchell was credited with 37 saves in a relief role.
Bill Bosse, Juneau-Douglas
JJ Fabeck, South
Cooper Smith, Colony
Alex Engan, Wasilla
Zac Nelson, South
Foster Riekena, Colony
Gavan Hardy, Dimond
Sawyer Courrier, West
Chase Schwamm, West
Blake Hausinger, Dimond
Brenden Anaruk, Dimond
Hunter Kattness, Dimond
*Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Foster Riekena's last name. It has been corrected.