WASILLA — In the moments following a decisive championship victory, Chugiak head hockey coach Rodney Wild distilled his team into a single word.
“Committed,” he said.
That commitment was on display throughout the entirety of the season, as Chugiak capped an unbeaten 23-0-1 campaign Saturday, defeating West High 5-2 to win Alaska’s Division I Hockey Championship.
For the seven seniors on the Chugiak team, it was the Mustangs’ last ride — and those seniors were the difference Saturday.
“This was our last season together, and everything was do or die,” said senior Shayden Davis, who netted two goals in the championship, including one with five minutes remaining to seal the win.
Senior Barrett Pelant added a goal, and senior goalie Daegen Love made 25 saves to earn the victory at Menard Sports Center.
“We had great senior leadership,” Wild said. “It was one of those years where we had seven seniors who were all contributing. Oftentimes, teams have seniors that are fourth line and might not see a lot of ice time. All seven of our seniors are key.”
Wild admitted the team was starting to feel the stress of maintaining the streak of consecutive wins, which stretched more than three months after a 2-2 tie against Dimond on Nov. 4.
“I thought we were so much more relaxed tonight,” Wild said.
Being the first on the scoreboard helped.
Chugiak made it 1-0 at 12:02 of the first period as Davis delivered a goal on the doorstep of the West net.
After a puck whizzed through the crease, senior Ajay Johnson knocked it to Davis who converted on a wide-open net.
Junior defenseman Hunter Merrick put Chugiak up 2-0 when he smoked a slap shot past West goalie Michael Rush just 1:11 into the second period.
West cut the Chugiak lead to 2-1 five minutes later on a beautiful one-timer executed by Joseph Dittrich, who delivered a pass from the left corner to Henry Sholton, who knocked it home off one knee.
But just minutes later, the Mustangs extended the lead back to two goals with Barrett Pelant connecting on an unassisted goal with 8:27 remaining in the second.
A pivotal point came late in the second period, as the Mustangs’ Malachi LaChance was whistled for a five-minute boarding penalty with 4:59 to play in the period. Just as Chugiak had nearly got through the stretch unscathed, Love was called for tripping with 6.7 seconds left. That gave West nearly seven straight minutes on the power-play but the Eagles weren’t able to cut into the Chugiak lead.
“In the back of my mind, I really though as we’re going through that five-minute major, if we kill this, I don’t see how we don’t win,” Wild said. “That had the potential to be a momentum-changer. And they had some great opportunities, but Daegen just ... there’s a reason he’s the best high school goalie in the state. He showed that tonight.”
West did cut the Chugiak lead to 3-2 in the third period as Paul Dittrich scored an unassisted goal.
But Davis and the Mustangs responded as he found a loose puck and scored with a wrist shot high on the stick side with five minutes remaining to boost the lead to 4-2.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” he said. “It was just little breakaway, and I picked an opening on the net.”
LaChance added a goal with three minutes remaining as the Mustangs continued to swarm.
“It was almost like they didn’t get tired,” Wild said.
The Mustangs last won the DI state title in 2017 so for the current crop of seniors it’d been a dry spell that had lasted their entire high school career.
“We’ve been waiting for this for four years, most of us,” Love said. “It was the last chance.”
Division I Boys Hockey Tournament
At Menard Sports Center
West 5, Soldotna 4
Colony 5, South 0
Chugiak 5, Dimond 2
West Valley 4, Wasilla 3 (OT)
South 4, Dimond 2
Wasilla 5, Soldotna 3
West 4, West Valley 2
Chugiak 3, Colony 1
Wasilla 3, South 1
Colony 4, West Valley 3
Chugiak 5, West High 2
Austin Keim, D, West; Barrett Pelant, F, Chugiak, Joseph Kirk, F, Colony; Daegen Love, G, Chugiak; Darshan Nautiyal, D, West Valley; Paul Dittrich, F, West; Carsen Lantto, F, Colony; Ajay Johnson, F, Chugiak; Mason Holler, D, Wasilla; Austin Wiita, F, South; Evan Fitzgerald, D, West; Hunter Merrick, D, Chugiak.