Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

After the human explosion of sticks, gloves and helmets took to the air before falling to the ice, followed by a few meaningful hugs, the Chugiak Mustangs briefly turned attention to their fans on the other side of the Ben Boeke Arena plexiglass.

The laughter, pointing and genuine goodness created by a Cook Inlet Conference hockey tournament championship extended to the players’ friends of a similar age. The revelry was equally intended for any older Mustangs in attendance or elsewhere.

Chugiak closed out a dominant CIC season with 3-0 win over South on Saturday in front of an overflow, yet oddly subdued Boeke crowd. The Mustangs will take an unbeaten 20-0-1 record into the Division I First National Cup state tournament, which begins Thursday in Wasilla.

South, in 2013, was the last team to venture to DI state without a defeat. Dimond handed the Wolverines their lone loss in the title game that year and South totaled a 25-1-0 record. The previous season, the Lynx won the first of back-to-back Cups and finished with an unscathed 26-0-0 mark.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

Saturday, hulking junior defenseman Hunter Merrick scored a goal and an assist, senior Ajay Johnson added two assists and senior goalie Daegen Love made 17 saves. The Mustangs earned only their fourth CIC tournament title (2023, 2017, 2016 and 1995), despite galloping around for the majority of the league’s 62-year existence.

Merrick said the present run of success definitely connects to all who’ve worn Mustangs’ powder blue, black and white.

“Means a lot,” he said. “There’s people and alumni from years and years back, before I was even born, who’ve come out to watch us play.

“The fact that we can represent the community like this (is special).”

Chugiak has now earned two jewels in Alaska high school hockey’s proverbial Triple Crown – titles in the regular season and league tournament. It also polished off a hefty hat trick of a different kind versus South.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

The Mustangs won all their season meetings with the Wolverines – Nov. 22, Jan. 20 and Saturday – by a combined 14-0 score. Chugiak outshot South 102-41 in the nine periods.

“Solid defense, absolutely,” said Love, who made 39 of those 41 stops.

CIC-leading scorer Shayden Davis notched his 13th goal in all league games and opened the scoring at 13 minutes, 12 seconds of the first. Landen Orebaugh (fifth) and Merrick (ninth) padded the lead with third-period scores.

South junior Cooper Kinnear got credit for 21 saves two nights after his mammoth performance in the tournament semifinals. Few should forget the Wolverines’ epic 4-3 win over West in seven overtimes, 93:27 of actual play in a little more than 3.5 of real time. Kinnear racked up 69 saves in that blockbuster.

Davis’ first-period goal snapped Kinnear’s two-night shutout string at 56:52.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

First-year South coach Daniel Ramsey was pleased with what he learned about his squad in the tournament’s final two games. The three-goal spread in the championship won’t tell the entire story of the Wolverines’ strong defensive performance.

Chugiak coach Rod Wild credited Ramsey and crew with the best job he’s seen all season of shutting down the middle of the ice, limiting offensive chances.

“We’re doing all we can to get our defense strong, obviously we have the goaltending there,” said Ramsey, only 23. “Offensively, we get outshot two to one most times out, sometimes three to one.

“We really tried to limit the odd-man rushes. We did that tonight, clogging the middle.

Chugiak, South (11-7-2), West (12-7-1) and Dimond (9-11-3) are locked in to represent the CIC at state. The Alaska School Activities Association should officially release the bracket sometime Sunday.

Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report

Merrick and the Mustangs can likely enjoy the evening and the accomplishments up to now. But that will all change when First National Cup play picks up in Wasilla.

“All that matters now is the next three (state) games,” he said. “This trophy is cool and all, but it doesn’t mean anything if we lose.”


Soldotna won its first DII First National Cup championship with a 2-1 victory over Juneau-Douglas on Saturday in Fairbanks. The Stars will be considered for one of two DI state at-large berths along with CIC tournament fifth-place (Service) and sixth-place (Eagle River) squads and the Mid-Alaska’s third-place team (Colony).

ASAA officials will convene early Sunday to do some math. Soldotna last played in DI state when it tied for seventh in 2016. This season, the Stars went 2-3-1 against DI opponents, including two November losses to Chugiak.


A pair of senior defensemen and a junior forward returned to all-CIC glory for a second consecutive season.

Aiden McEwen (Chugiak), Dallas Young (Dimond) and Fischer Sims (Chugiak) were named to the team once again thanks to a vote of the league’s coaches. McEwen finished with 2-3—5 total in eight regular-season games. Young (11 4-7—11) tied for fifth in scoring amongst defensemen and Sims (8 9-11—20) tied him for fourth in overall scoring.

South’s Ethan Frison (10 3-7—10) was the lone freshman on the all-league squad.

Senior goaltenders Love and Michael Rust (West) also earned all-CIC honors. Love led the regular season in most statistical categories. He also made the conference’s best list as sophomore in 2021.

In his 24th season behind the bench, Wild was named the CIC coach of the year for a second straight go-around. West won its second consecutive academic award with the – get this – exact same 3.58 team grade-point average as 2022.

2022-23 All-Cook Inlet Conference Team

Bartlett – Wyatt Rust, So.
Chugiak – Shayden Davis, Sr., Ajay Johnson, Sr., Fischer Sims, Jr.
Dimond – Andrew Sturgeon, Jr., Tyson Jones, Jr.
Eagle River – Joseph Radiff, Jr.
Service – Diego Brown Jr., Sr.
South – Austin Witta, Jr., Ethan Frison, Fr.
West – Owen Melson, Jr.; Oliver Circosta, Jr.
Chugiak – Hunter Merrick, Jr.; Aiden McEwen, Sr.
Dimond – Dallas Young, Sr.
South – Gordon Jennings, So.
West – Evan Fitzgerald, Jr.; Austin Keim, Jr.
Chugiak – Daegen Love, Sr.
West – Michael Rust, Sr.
Coach of the Year
Chugiak – Rod Wild
Team GPA
West – 3.58 grade-point average

Additional Article Sponsors:
Dan Rufner, On the Border, Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC., Korndrop Family Foundation, Advanced Diagnostics, INC, Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC., Residential Mortgage, Midas Alaska, Continental Auto Group, Advanced Diagnostics, INC
School Boosters:
Zareena and Allen Clendaniel, Rick Mystrom, Mark Silverman, Burgerfi, Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing, Midas Alaska, BOSCO's, Replacement Glass, Kathleen Navarre, Jim Hajdukovich, Residential Mortgage, Aspen Endodontics, RE/MAX Dynamic Properties, Kevin Taylor, Harlow Robinson, Team Heat, Todd Whited, Mark and Jamie Johnson, Firetap, Coho Financial Group, R&M Consultants, Inc., Invisalign-Ben Ward, Advanced Diagnostics, INC, Alice & Gunnar Knapp, The Conway Family, Don Clary & Judy Besh, Dan Rufner, On the Border, Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC., Korndrop Family Foundation, Advanced Diagnostics, INC,