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High School Sports

Low on skaters, high on offense, West Eagles head into state hockey tournament

  • Author: Matt Nevala
  • Updated: February 12, 2020
  • Published February 12, 2020

From left, Matthew Patchin, Chase Solberg and Ian Keim give the West Eagles a high-scoring line. (Marc Lester / ADN)

A decade into his gig as the West High hockey coach, Nate Shasby figured the 2019-20 roster included enough playmakers to make for a competitive season.

“Our realistic goal was a top-four finish in the Cook Inlet Conference,” Shabsy said. “And I thought that may be kind of pushing it.”

Thankfully for the Eagles, the hard-driving offensive trio of senior Chase Solberg, junior Matthew Patchin and sophomore Ian Keim moved fluidly from the jump, and the three don’t look to stop during this week’s First National Cup Division I state tournament in Wasilla. At least that’s the plan.

“Dominate,” Solberg said of the job at hand.

West sports a 20-1-1 record and earned the eight-team bracket’s top seed after capturing both the CIC regular-season and tournament titles. The Eagles lost to South 3-1 on Jan. 15 and skated to a 3-3 tie with Dimond on Dec. 14.

In 22 games, the Eagles outscored opponents 140-27 and the top forward line of Keim, Solberg and Patchin accounted for 103 of the goals (73.6%).

The line swallows up more than 70% of the ice time up front as the Eagles have expertly navigated their way through the season with no more than 12 skaters dressed for a game.

“We know we’re going to play pretty conservatively for almost all the game,” Keim said. “But when we have a chance, we feel we also have the best offense.

“We know when it’s time step on the opponent’s throat. When it’s time to get a goal, we know what to do.”

Ian Keim flips a puck during practice this week. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Solberg’s 91 points, Keim’s 80 and Patchin’s 77 in 22 games amount to 248 combined goals and assists, or 66.3% of the team’s totals.

In the 14-game CIC league season, the triumvirate posted astronomical numbers to rank 1-2-3 in scoring. Solberg had 28 goals and picked up 41 assists for 69 points, Patchin was 28-24—52 and Keim 18-33—51. The CIC’s next leading scorer was Chugiak’s Luke Momblow with 20-23—43 totals.

“The numbers are pretty special,” said Solberg, who transferred from East for his senior season. “It’s amazing to be a part of all this.”

Solberg is enjoying his time wearing an Eagles sweater. Besides hockey, he said he made the move from Anchorage’s second-oldest school to its oldest because of interest in West’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses focused on health care.

“(Solberg) is great from the top of the circles in,” said Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson, the dean of Alaska high school coaches and a UAA Hall of Famer. “He’s fantastic, great with the puck.

“A good, heady player.”

No CIC scorer totaled more than 33 points in the past four regular seasons. Current UAA commit Zach Krajnik went 13-20—33 for Chugiak in 2016-17 and Eagle River’s Sutton McDonald put up a 12-21—33 line the previous season. McDonald currently skates for the North American Hockey (Junior A) League’s Wilkes Barre/Scranton (Pa.) Knights, where he was recently named the East Division’s second star of the week.

Official state and CIC scoring records don’t readily exist for various reasons, but a “Faces in the Crowd” article from Sports Illustrated dated April 19, 1982, reported on the junior years of former Anchorage Aces and East High skaters Kory Wright and Steve MacSwain.

Wright and MacSwain “led the Thunderbirds to a 16-1-2 regular-season record and the (CIC) championship. (MacSwain), a right wing, was the league's No. 1 scorer with 55 goals and 49 assists for 104 points. (Wright), a center, amassed 86 points on 37 goals and 49 assists. They both surpassed the previous league record of 69 points in a season. (MacSwain) broke the points mark with five games to play.”

The Alaska School Activities Association sanctioned the first state tournament the next season (1982-83).

This season, the Eagles have seldom slowed with their small roster and unique approach. Solberg, Keim and Patchin team with primary defensemen Nicko Opinsky, Ethan Pickett and Aidan Fitzgerald and goaltender Will Simpson to pick their offensive spots.

In five games against the CIC’s second- and third-place teams — Dimond, seeded second in the state tournament, and South, seeded third, the Eagles were 3-1-1 while outscoring the Lynx and Wolverines a combined 20-8. Solberg, Patchin and Keim racked up 15-19—34 totals in those contests, including three Patchin hat tricks. That line scored 89.9% of West’s points against nine other statewide opponents.

West High School hockey coach Nate Shasby and his players view video from a recent game in a locker room at Dempsey-Anderson Ice Arena. (Marc Lester / ADN)

And West isn’t all about offense. The Eagles have defensive claws too and aren’t afraid to ice the puck and wait.

“Everyone understands their role and responsibility,” Shasby said. “We kind of reinvented the way teams play and had to bridge a gap with our numbers. We’ve exceeded our original expectations.

“Obviously, we’re a one-line team but this has been a special group as a whole. The guys on our bench have great attitudes and it’s amazing how well we’ve gotten along.

“This is definitely a team.”

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.

2020 ASAA First National Cup

Thursday’s games at the Menard Center (Wasilla)

Noon — Service (10-14-0) vs. West (20-1-1)

2:30 p.m. — Homer (20-2-1) vs. South (18-3-1)

5 p.m. — Colony (14-5-0) vs. Dimond (21-3-1)

7:30 p.m. — Eagle River (13-10-1) vs. Wasilla (15-5-0)

(Championship game is 5 p.m. Saturday)

State championships (1983-present*)

Dimond – 8 (1984, 1985, 1988, 1998, 2001, 2012, 2013, 2018)

Service – 8 (1983, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004)

South – 7 (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2014, 2019)

West – 3 (2010, 2015, 2016)

Homer – 1 (2020 Division II)

* 1983 marked the first ASAA-sanctioned state tournament

Records vs. other tournament teams

West – 13-1-1

Dimond – 9-3-1

South – 7-3-1

Eagle River – 5-7-1

Colony 4-7-0

Wasilla – 4-7-0

Homer – 2-1-0

Service – 0-14-0