For two periods, the Chugiak hockey team was locked in a tight battle Saturday for the Cook Inlet Conference tournament title.
In the third period, the Mustangs reverted to a team that had conquered the regular season in unbeaten fashion, taking a 3-0 win over South High at a packed Ben Boeke Ice Arena.
Moving to 20-0-1 with the victory, Chugiak will be the top seed in next weekend’s Division I state tournament at Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla.
But the conference tournament title and top seed at state were not assured for the Mustangs as they entered the third period with a 1-0 advantage over South.
But Landen Orebaugh tallied a goal and Hunter Merrick scored on the power play to give Chugiak a cushion.
“(We started) playing for each other,” Merrick said of the third period. “We started out playing pretty slow, I hate to say it. But the first and second period, for our standard (weren’t that good). We played for each other more in the third period. The third line got one, I got one and everyone did their part.”
Chugiak goalie Daegen Love wasn’t tested relentlessly — he faced just 17 shots. But when he did face shots, he was up to the task, recording his second shutout in two tournament games.
“It’s all them,” Love said of his teammates. “I’m just sitting back and letting them do what they do. But the work is not done yet. We’ve got three more games.”
Shayden Davis gave Chugiak a 1-0 lead in the first period on the power play with assists from Ajay Johnson and Merrick.
In the opening round of the tournament, Chugiak will face Dimond at 4 p.m. on Thursday in the opening round.
“We’re just going to keep rolling and keep our eyes on that prize,” Love said. “We want that undefeated (state) title.”
Merrick said head coach Rodney Wild used the team’s performance at the end of the game as a parallel for the final three games of the season.
“I think coach put it well at the end of the game,” Merrick said. “He said ‘Just replicate what you did in that third and you’ll be just fine. Finish strong.’ ”
Soldotna, which qualified by beating Juneau 2-1 in the championship game of the Division II state tournament Saturday, is the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
Division I State Hockey Tournament
At Menard Sports Center in Wasilla
Thursday’s first round
No. 2 Soldotna vs. No. 7 West High, 11 a.m.
No. 4 Colony vs. No. 5 South High
No. 1 Chugiak vs. No. 8 Dimond, 4 p.m.
No. 3 Wasilla vs. No. 6 West Valley, 7 p.m.