A high school sophomore for only a few more days, A.J. Pflugh will forever be Dimond hockey’s “Mr. May.”
Pflugh’s goal in the early minutes of double overtime capped off a Cook Inlet Conference championship for the Lynx and a most unusual season for everyone.
In front of a limited but still raucous Ben Boeke Arena crowd, Dimond won its 14th CIC crown and its first since 2014 with a 2-1 win over archrival South on Saturday night.
“I can’t really describe the feeling right now, there is so much going on,” an exhausted Pflugh said shortly after scoring the game-winner at 1 minute, 26 seconds of the second 8-minute extra period. “I still can’t believe it.”
The CIC is rife with hockey history. West High, the city’s first high school, won what’s considered the first regular-season title in 1962. Since then, a who’s-who of Alaska’s top talent -- Scott Gomez, Brian Swanson, Nate Thompson, Jeremy Swayman and many more -- have skated for their high schools.
“You ask any of these kids what they’re going to remember, it’s going to be the high school team,” veteran Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson said. “Comp hockey is great, a great exposure model. But high school is all about their friends and their community.
“They love and will never forget this.”
A bitter battle from the start, top-seeded Dimond (13-1-0 record) and second-seeded South (10-3-0) turned in a classic.
The Lynx won the conference’s regular-season title, winning 11 of 12 scheduled games in a season that started six weeks ago -- more than a month after the Division I First National Cup state tournament would have finished in normal times.
This just in: we’re not in normal times.
The Alaska School Activities Association cancelled the state tournament, set for late February, after Anchorage schools delayed their season to late March because of the pandemic. For CIC teams, the result was a 45-day showcase that ended Saturday night.
The spring season came with its own issues. It was delayed until late March so the majority of the community’s comp programs could complete their regular seasons, although several comp players were on teams that qualified for USA Hockey national tournaments and were still playing last weekend.
The travel and the chance to play on a national stage left some high schoolers opting out of CIC play or missing high school games because of COVID exposure. South was down numerous rostered players because of quarantine and mitigation policies, which is why the Wolverines used 33 different skaters in their 13 games, some of them wearing different uniform numbers depending on the night.
“I just viewed it all as an opportunity for some young kids to come up and get some pace with guys they were not used to seeing,” South coach Sam Olson said. “A lot of those young players really came on for us.”
South senior Bryce Monrean is one of the guys who pushed the pace for the younger players. He spent his first three years of high school competing Outside but decided to return home during the pandemic to play and graduate with his friends.
He scored his seventh goal in eight games to open the night’s scoring, giving South a 1-0 lead at 3:29 of the second period.
“This whole game and few days have been a huge deal,” Monrean said. “Our last game together, especially for us seniors. I feel like I’ve been a part of this team all four years and have gotten to know all the kids.
“Winning this was something we all really wanted.”
Monrean was one of five South seniors. Dimond has eight seniors, including mega-talent defenseman Jack Dolan. He tied the game 1-1 at 8:19 of the third with a wicked right-to-left shot that beat South’s Eddie Makar to the far, blocker side.
Makar, a senior, finished with 24 saves. Dimond junior Gage Guay, who played every second of the season for the Lynx, totaled 25 saves.
“Everything about this game was tough,” Guay said. “South is a great opponent and we managed to come out on top. I’d love to be able to do that again.”
Guay made seven saves in the first overtime to Makar’s two. Neither recorded a save in the second overtime.
Pflugh played hero thanks in large part to the fantastic forecheck of Dimond senior Landen Reed. Plugh and Reed pinned a South defender behind the net and Reed -- who played with an abandon much larger than his small frame -- assisted on the game winner.
Positioned near the right post and goal line, Pflugh barely slid in the golden goal.
“We were behind the net and I pinched down, the puck was loose, and I was able to shoot it on the net,” he said. “I just threw it on, and it managed to go above (Makar’s) pad.”
Guay loved what he saw at the opposite end of the ice before jetting down to join the celebration.
“Right when I saw them go behind the net, I knew something good would come out of it,” he said.
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590) Saturdays at 11 a.m. Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
2021 All-Conference Team (by vote of league coaches)
Jack Dolan, Dimond senior
C.J. Reid, Dimond sophomore
Gavin McDonald, Eagle River junior
Colton Gerken, South junior
James Roberts, South junior
Aidan Fitzgerald, West junior
Bradley Beals, Bartlett junior
Maddoc Newton, Chugiak sophomore
Landen Reed, Dimond senior
Garret Miknich, Dimond senior
Teague Porter, Dimond senior
Aaron James, Eagle River junior
Tay Kurpius, Eagle River junior
Jack Carter, Service junior
Thomas Edmondson, Service junior
Gavin Fox, South junior
Bryce Monrean, South senior
Ian Keim, West junior
Daegen Love, Chugiak sophomore
Gage Guay, Dimond junior
Coach -- Dennis Sorenson, Dimond
Academic/GPA -- West, 3.45
This story was updated to clarify the events that led to the cancellation of the Division I state tournament.