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Hat trick leads West High to opening-round win over West Valley in state hockey tournament

Feb. 8—WASILLA — The top-seeded West High boys hockey team found itself in a tight contest early in the second period of the opening round of the Alaska Division I Boys Hockey Tournament.

West Valley had scored on a power-play goal to cut West's lead to 2-1 early in the period Thursday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex.

But West's Evan Fitzgerald went on a rampage, scoring a natural hat trick that extended into the third period to push the Eagles to a 6-1 victory.

West Valley had a chance to tie the game with another power-play goal, but Fitzgerald, a senior, capitalized seconds after the penalty time expired. His goal put the Eagles up 3-1, and they never looked back.

"I think the most important thing after you've been scored on is to forget about it and just keep playing your game," Fitzgerald said. "I was lucky enough I kept shooting and they kept going in."

West entered state as the top seed but suffered an upset at the hands of South Anchorage in last weekend's CIC Tournament semifinals. That gave the team an extra incentive to play well Thursday.

"It was pretty important to get a good performance out of us today," West head coach Rob Larkey said. "Like I've said, there are 4-5 teams that can win at any time and that's what you're facing. You just have to gel at the right time and have your chemistry working at the right time."

West's chemistry was good in the first period, as the Eagles notched a pair of goals. Paul Dittrich notched the first one with Kaden Abbott, making it 2-0 in the final few minutes of the period.

"This game was just a momentum game," Fitzgerald said. "We have to build every single day of this tournament and get better every single day, and we did a good job with that."

That momentum was nearly taken away when West Valley cut it to 2-1 at the 12:26 mark of the second period. Wet Valley's Adam Yates scored on a wrist shot from the edge of the crease, beating West goalie Gunnar Bergo.

But that was the only blemish on Bergo's scoresheet for the day as he finished with 14 saves.

"He played really well," Larkey said. "It was a good game for him. He's been steady for us all year."

Fitzgerald added his second goal late in the second period on a West power play, firing a wrist shot through traffic to make it 4-1. He added his third straight goal in the third period, also on a power play.

Henry Sholton rounded out the West scoring in the third, skating in on the left side, taking a pass and firing it top shelf past West Valley goalie Jace Burnett. Burnett was busy all day, making 42 saves.

In winning the regular season title, West displayed a high-powered offense. Balancing that free-wheeling play with puck possession is the key to an extended run at state, Larkey said.

"That's the million-dollar question," he said. "Sometimes we have too many kids jumping in the play, and we get caught back on a breakaway. We (need to) eliminate that because we do have good punching power."

A rematch of the CIC Tournament championship game between South Anchorage and Chugiak played out in some ways much like the first. South scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and pulled away for the 5-1 win.

That was the same result as last Saturday's game, but this time the go-ahead score was much more dramatic and came at the end of a second period that featured choppy play and a load of penalties.

After squandering power-play chances throughout the second period, South's Thomas Tunney pulled the string on a wrist shot from the left side in transition, scoring on a power play with just 3.3 seconds left in the period to put South up 2-1.

"It was big," Tunney said. "It lifted spirits a lot."

The score saved what might have been a major missed opportunity in the second period for the Wolverines. Chugiak was whistled for a 5-minute major for charging at 12:22 of the period and had another skater sent to the box a minute later on a cross-check. And while the Wolverines couldn't convert on the 5-on-3 of the extended power play, Tunney said at least it meant puck possession for South.

"It kind of killed the momentum, but it was good to be down in their zone and keep it down there," Tunney said.

That goal started a goal-scoring spree for South as Bryce Webb, Austin Wiita and Chase Mascelli scored in the third period to blow the game open.

Tunney said last Saturday's championship game between the two teams was a component in how Thursday's game went.

"That might have played a factor in how we came out," he said. "We might have come out a little flat-footed there."

Chugiak looked strong early, scoring just 21 seconds into the game on a goal from Fischer Sims. But Tunney helped South knot the game at 1-1 later in the period, banging home his first goal of the game from the left side of the net.

South goalie Cole Schmidt, who earned a shutout in Saturday's 2-0 win over Chugiak in the title game, had another strong effort Thursday with 35 saves.

West and South will face off Friday in the first semifinal at 4 p.m.

No. 6 seed Dimond pulled off an upset over No. 3 Colony, winning 3-2. Dimond pulled away with a pair of goals in the second period to go up 3-1 and held on for the win. Reid Carlson and Joe Christainsen notched the second-period goals for the Lynx.

No. 2 Wasilla cruised to an 8-0 win over Service in the opening round. The Warriors had eight different players scored goals and pulled away in the second period with four goals. Wasilla plays Dimond in Friday's semifinal at 6:30 p.m.

Alaska Boys Division I Hockey Tournament

at Menard Center in Wasilla

Thursday

First round

No. 1 West 6, No. 8 West Valley 1

No. 4 South 5, No. 5 Chugiak 1

No. 6 Dimond 3, No. 3 Colony 2

No. 2 Wasilla 8, No. 7 Service 0

Friday

Semifinals

West vs. South, 4 p.m.

Dimond vs. Wasilla, 6:30 p.m.