For the first time in three seasons, South and West didn’t need extra time to deliver a Cook Inlet Conference tournament classic.
Thursday night, they needed a different building.
In one of the Anchorage sports community’s more stupefying ordeals, the 55th conference tournament semifinal between the Wolverines and the Eagles was stopped 2 minutes, 47 seconds into play at about 6:30 p.m. Ben Boeke Arena was quickly evacuated after a thick, white fog rose from the northwest corner and the carbon dioxide alarms blared.
Players, patrons and all those in attendance calmly exited outside to the not-so-delightful subzero temperatures. Credit everyone involved for taking necessary action with no panic.
Enter the neighboring Sullivan Arena, which recently reopened its ice surface after a four-plus year hiatus because of the pandemic and politics. Once it was deemed everyone was safe, they indeed entered the Sullivan.
The game, a 2-1 thriller won by South, picked up where it left off at 7:18 p.m.
— Anchorage HS Hockey (@CIC_Hockey) February 2, 2024
Last season, the teams needed 93:47 and seven overtimes before South won the 4-3 semifinal matchup. The Wolverines downed the Eagles 3-2 in the fourth overtime and after 75:10 of play to win the 2022 tournament championship.
But this one will always be remembered for the venue change. How it looked and how it felt.
“Pretty wild,” said West senior Jude Doniere, as he walked during the stoppage with his hockey bag draped over the right shoulder to what used to be the University of Alaska Anchorage’s locker room.
A few doors to the left, South took over the room the Alaska Aces used to occupy during their ECHL heyday.
“What a crazy night,” Wolverines senior Kieveri Schutt said. “I’m never going to forget the sound of those CO2 alarms.”
It’s believed Boeke’s problems are tied to its chiller/ice plant system. The Alaska Sports Report learned plumbers and other workers were en route to assess the damage. There’s no telling when Boeke will again be operational, but games are scheduled there Friday and Saturday.
Also a Service High safety-security specialist, CIC hockey game manager Mark Wisthoff, said once Boeke was safely evacuated he approached the rink attendants about Sullivan’s availability. In a matter of minutes, it was agreed the game would move next door.
The assembled crowd methodically, chilled mightily while in the parking lot, moved en masse to Sullivan’s southwest corner entrance. Before long, they filled a swath of the arena’s southside lower bowl from sections 105 to 117.
The Anchorage School District’s chief academic officer Sven Gustafson is also West High’s former principal. As the second period played on, Gustafson took in the scene.
“This really seems to be how everything is going (because of the cold snap),” he said. “Something breaks down, people fill in and figure it out. Just look at what these people quickly did.
The game itself is considered to be the first meaningful high school contest played on Sullivan’s Olympic-sized sheet since 1997. East downed Service 2-0 for the Division I state title back when Chumbawamba had everyone “Tubthumping.” Those Thunderbirds featured former Aces banger and Kelly Cup champ Mike Lee, former UAA goalie Chris King – he made 18 saves in the championship win over the Cougars – and a coach by the name of Rob Larkey.
Hey, West currently has a coach named Rob Larkey.
“Everyone faced the same thing here tonight,” Larkey said. “What with the evacuation and also playing on the big ice, which was kind of nice. It was a little warmer for the fans as well.”
South took a 1-0 lead after senior Brody Melocik scored on a tip-in at 9:00 of the second. Schutt set up senior Reece Poisson’s breakaway score at 6:17 of the third by brilliantly getting a stick in a passing lane and clearing the zone to send Poisson loose with the puck.
Senior goaltender Cole Schmidt, who led the CIC regular season in numerous statistical categories, turned aside 34 shots. West’s Joseph Dittrich snuck in his team’s lone goal from behind the goal-line with 86 seconds remaining. Eagles junior Gunnar Bergo stopped 19 shots.
The Wolverines defeated the Eagles for the first time this season after losing 2-0 and 4-3. South (10-5-1 overall record), West (15-3-1), Chugiak and Dimond have all qualified for next week’s DI First National Cup state tournament in Wasilla.
“A win like this one tonight should do a lot for us,” Schutt said. “We came in with a lot of hype and a good group, but then had a few rough games. We haven’t beat West yet, so it’s a big deal.”
Chugiak defeated Dimond, 4-1 in Thursday’s semifinal at Eagle River’s McDonald Center. South and Chugiak will meet in Saturday’s league tournament title game for the second season in a row and second overall. The Mustangs won last year 3-0 on their way to capturing DI state a week later.
This season, South won 2-0 on Nov. 3 and the teams skated to a 1-1 tie on Dec. 8.
Now, we’ll wait and see exactly where the rivalry’s next chapter takes place.
“I wouldn’t mind playing (at Sullivan Arena),” Schutt said.
Of course, he and the Wolverines would play just about anywhere for the chance to capture the program’s eighth CIC tournament crown.
“Correct,” Schutt said.
CHUGIAK 4, DIMOND 1
Chugiak junior goalie Caylin Jones was credited with 33 saves as the Mustangs avenged a fresh regular-season setback to Dimond that was just over a week old. She made 18 saves in the third period.
Seniors Landen Orebaugh and Fischer Sims each scored a goal and two assists. Chugiak improved to 10-6-1.
Junior Caden Cartwright notched Dimond lone goal at the 9:23 mark of the final period. Senior goalie Zoie Campbell stopped 21 shots. The Lynx fell to 10-5-1 and had their four-game, on-ice winning streak snapped.
Dimond and West are scheduled to play the tournament’s third-place game Friday night. The Eagles won the two regular-season meetings by counts of 6-3 and 8-0.
— Anchorage HS Hockey (@CIC_Hockey) February 2, 2024
- Bartlett (3-15-0) and Service (6-13-0) will meet Friday night in the CIC tournament’s fifth-place game, with the Cougars having the inside track to a DI at-large state berth regardless of the outcome. Why? Process of elimination – only 10 active teams currently play DI. South, Chugiak, West, Dimond, Wasilla (16-4-1) and West Valley (4-10-1, co-op with Lathrop) are locked in as 75% of the state bracket. The Alaska School Activities Association on Thursday confirmed West Valley’s spot as the Northern Lights Conference’s second automatic entry.
- Bartlett (co-op with East), Colony (14-7-1), Eagle River (0-17-0) and Service are the only ones left eligible for the two DI state at-large bids. According to the ASAA handbook, the spots “will be determined by the conference bylaws and could be based on the conference tournament or regular-season results. Each team in the ‘pool’ will be given a point value of .5 or one against the other team being considered. Points will be assigned using the following ranked criteria: 1) Head-to-head record; 2) Record against common opponents at all classifications; 3) Record against common state qualifiers at that classification; 4) Record against common opponents at that classification.” Used winning percentages “must have a difference of at least 25%. If there is a tie, the same criteria will be used to break the tie, disregarding the other teams. If the tie still exists there will be coin toss by ASAA staff to determine who advances.” ASAA should release the official eight-team DI bracket sometime Sunday.
- By all accounts and available research, Bartlett’s 8-4 win over Eagle River on Monday in the conference tournament opener proved momentous, nearly 24 years in the making. Thanks to Greg Howard’s four goals, the Golden Bears downed East 7-3 on Feb. 8, 2000, for what’s believed to be their last CIC tourney win. They dropped a 2-1 semifinal decision to Dimond two nights later. Bartlett hasn’t made a state tournament appearance since that season.
- The DII First National Cup for schools with student enrollment of 850 or fewer began Thursday in Soldotna. The quarterfinal scores: Houston 10, Tri-Valley 0; Palmer 12, Kodiak 0; Kenai 4, Juneau-Douglas 2 and Soldotna 4, North Pole 2. The Stars are the defending DII state champs.