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High School Sports

They have more cheerleaders than skaters, but the West Eagles have enough firepower to rule CIC hockey

  • Author: Matt Nevala
  • Updated: February 9
  • Published February 8

Look at any Cook Inlet Conference scoresheet throughout the season and the West High lineup rarely consisted of more than 12 skaters and two goaltenders.

When the puck dropped on the top-seeded Eagles’ impressive 5-2 victory over Dimond for the CIC tournament title Saturday evening, those again were the numbers dressed in white, orange and black.

In contrast, 20 West cheerleaders welcomed the vociferous standing-room only Ben Boeke Arena crowd. Twenty-one counting the kid dressed as the Eagle mascot.

“It is ridiculous,” West senior goalie Will Simpson said with a laugh of the Eagles’ numbers on and off the ice.

Hockey teams generally have 20 players in uniform, but 14 are enough for the Eagles.

Simpson cemented his status as a CIC all-conference team member with 14 saves and sophomore Ian Keim registered points on every West goal (two goals, three assists). League-leading scorer and senior Chase Solberg tallied two goals and two assists and senior defenseman Nicko Opinsky added a late power-play score as the Eagles took the second jewel in Anchorage high school hockey’s triple crown.

West (20-1-1 overall) captured its sixth CIC tournament championship, and its first since 2010, to go with the regular-season CIC title it clinched last week. Beginning Thursday at Wasilla’s Menard Center, the Eagles will aim for the third gem in the crown when the First National Cup Division I state tournament begins.

“To be honest, something like that for West for the legacy would be amazing,” Keim said. “But triple crown aside, the goal since day one has been to win a state championship.

“It’s really all this is about.”

The Eagles have won three state championships, in 2010, 2015 and 2016.

Their limited lineup means the top line of Keim, Solberg and junior Matthew Patchin get a load of minutes and pump in plenty of points. The trio combined for 74 goals and 98 assists in 14 CIC regular-season contests.

While Dimond and South tied in allowing a league-low 21 goals in the regular season, West limited league opponents to 22. Simpson fashioned a 1.12 goals-average in six regular-season starts and in two tournament games surrendered just the two goals to Dimond.

“Every single guy knows their role and does whatever they can to pitch in,” Keim said. “It’s just one of the best fits for everyone out of all the teams I’ve played on.

“Everyone sacrifices to get the win at the end of the day.”

Maybe no one sacrificed more than West senior defenseman and co-captain Ethan Pickett did with less than a minute ot play in Saturday’s first period. With the Eagles clinging to a 1-0 lead, Simpson came out of his net to play the puck from between the circles. As the goalie got tied up with a Dimond forechecker, the puck bounced to Lynx sophomore Tristan Bernsten with the West net was empty.

When Bersten shot, Pickett somehow hustled to get in the way. He kicked out his right leg and stopped the shot, and the Eagles carried their small lead into the intermission.

“Yeah, that was a little sketchy,” Simpson said. “”You know, I’m a pretty aggressive goaltender and like to come out and play the puck. I guess my nerves were still a little under me so I threw my stick out.

“Luckily, Pickett was there. What a save.”

While West mustered only 19 shots on goal, including Solberg’s empty-net score with one second remaining, Dimond had a mere 16 shots. Max Hickel and Tyler Christiansen scored for the Lynx, who fell to 21-3-1 overall and 0-2-1 versus West.

“Credit to West, those guys have really good systems and know what to do at all times,” said Dimond senior defenseman Drake Reid. “We made some opportunities, but it just didn’t happen.”

Dimond is headed to state along with fellow CIC teams West, South, Eagle River and Service. Winners of eight state titles since 1983, the Lynx may have to do without senior defenseman and captain Tyler Graeber, who left the game after two periods with an apparent upper-body injury.

“It would be a huge loss,” Reid said.

West and Dimond could collide again next Saturday night with a state title on the line, depending on how the bracket and tournament play shake out.

“We’d love that,” Simpson said. “It’s become such a big rivalry, it’s so fun because Dimond always brings such an electric crowd. It’s the best.”

Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.

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