The last Saturday night for high school hockey has come and gone featuring the Chugiak Mustangs and the South Wolverines on Feb. 11. The Mustangs beat the Wolverines 3-0 in a hard-fought battle for victory and the state high school title.
This was the first time Chugiak has won the State Tournament in 17 years. The last time CHS won the title was the first year Rodney Wild, CHS head coach, took control of the reins with Mustang hockey in 2000.
“It feels amazing to be the state champions, and we all worked hard for it all year,” Kadin Yockey, one of the captains and a first line defenseman, said. His teammate a forward, Grant Epple added, “Can’t describe the feeling, but it feels great.”
The State Hockey Tournament took place at the Menard Center in Wasilla, and even though that is a long drive for fans, they still came out to support the Mustangs. The fans were not only packed with friends and family, but also other hockey teams such as Colony and Eagle River, which had just played in the afternoon for third and fourth place, respectively. Friends on other teams came out to support their friends in Chugiak and South.
There were also people there from the Valley because they wanted to see a good hockey game. Some of the Valley fans commented they didn’t want an Anchorage team win, so they rooted for Chugiak.
Garrett Nevells, a fan for Chugiak, said, “Chugiak will have to win by fighting, and coming out on top.”
Bekah Smith added, “Chugiak will win, and they won CIC, so they have a good chance. While South had the harder path and a younger group, they will come out strong, but Chugiak has the experience and will come out stronger.”
The starting lineup for the Mustangs featured four of the nine seniors graduating in May and the four captains, Kadin Yockey’s, Andrew Beckett, John Hammer, and Zach Krajnik along with Sophomore Zach Plucinski and Junior Jack Walters, the starter goalie.
Walters’ mom, Janine Walters, said, “It’s exciting to see Jack start in the game, and he is really pumped for this game.”
As soon as the puck was dropped, Chugiak took off, but the puck gets stuck in the Mustangs zone, giving South have the first shot of the night on Jack Walters who saved it.
The puck went back and forth in both ends, neither teams letting the other score or have good shots on their goalies.
Every time Jack made an amazing save, Paul Straub, the super fan from Chugiak would lead a chant, “Jack Walters,” over and over again with the crowd joining in.
The first penalty goes to the Mustangs Plucinski for holding. The Mustangs hold off the Wolverines for two more minutes not letting them score in the first period. Senior Zach Krajnik got tripped, so the Mustangs got their first power play of the game, but didn’t score. Andrew Beckett was close to making a goal, but he hit the post. CHS Freshman Tyler Huffer made a big play for the Mustangs by stopping a player from South at a scoring opportunity. Chugiak had 11 saves while South had 6 saves in the first period. Neither team scored a goal.
In the second period, the Mustangs won the draw again, and CHS Senior Zach Krajnik takes the first shot of the period on South’s goalie, Hannah Hogenson. Senior Brady Lindberg gets the first goal for the Mustangs because of Krajnik passing to Beckett who passed to Lindberg.
Brady Lindberg’s girlfriend, Maddy Richardson, whose face had a massive smile as she watched in the stands, said, “I’m proud of him, and all he wanted to do is to help his team out in the state tournament. He wanted to prove himself to his team.”
Senior Andrew Beckett follows Lindberg with a goal. His goal was unassisted when he blocked the South defenseman’s shot on net and got a one on one with the other South defenseman. Jack Walters made many hard saves that looked easy. Jack made 12 saves, and the South’s Hoganson made six by the end of second period.
The score was 2-0 to the Mustangs.
To start the third period, the puck was once again won by the Mustangs, and a pass from John Hammer helped Andrew Beckett get a shot on net, but didn’t score. There was a break away on Walters, but he stopped it, so the crowd screamed his name once again. Daniel Casey hungry for a goal took a shot and almost scored, but he hit the crossbar instead. The Mustangs were also saved by the post because a South player took a slap shot on net, but the puck hit the post. John Hammer got tripped which resulted in another power play for Chugiak where they did not score. Chugiak called a timeout during their power play. Shortly after the penalty was over, South called for a timeout. They decided to pull their goalie, so they could get six players out to score. That plan backfired on them because Andrew Beckett scored on an open net with an assist from Zach Krajnik. That goal from Beckett helped Chugiak win 3-0 against South.
Walters, who remained in the net for CHS for the entire game, earned himself and the Mustangs a shutout against a team that had at one point in the season been the No. 1 seed in the Cook Inlet Conference.
The fans started to count down the clock at 10 seconds, and as soon as that buzzer went off all the Chugiak players threw their gloves, sticks, and helmets off and skated over and did a big group hug with Walters in the middle. After the group hug, all the players were hugging each other.
There were awards after the game, the Sportsmanship Award went to South, and the Academic GPA Award with a grade point average of 3.2 went to Juneau-Douglas. The All-Tournament Team had players from both Chugiak and Eagle River on there. From Eagle River, they were Sutton and Cam McDonald, and from Chugiak, they were Andrew Beckett, John Hammer, Zach Krajnik, and Jack Walters. South got awarded second place in State, and Chugiak got awarded first place.
Paul Straub, the super fan from Chugiak led every cheer, and he could be heard across the ice to the Chugiak’s bench where they sat. The crowd didn’t disappoint their players either by doing all the cheer Straub would start. Many of the fans shook their pom-poms and bells they had to add more noise to their cheering. When asked if the cheering affected the team’s play, Junior Daniel Casey said, “It was great to have support, and it made everything more fun.” Two of Chugiak’s fans both Juniors, Bekah Smith and Garrett Nevells said their favorite parts were the goals.
Chugiak hasn’t been in the Championship game since 2000, and Head Coach, Rodney Wild was extremely happy to be back in the Championship game again. He said, “We expected to be here since we made it here last year.” Wild was
asked what he would do as an encore, and his reply was, “Not to wait 17 years to be back in the Championship game.” This game was really important to both coaches and players to, forward, Daniel Casey it was important because he didn’t want this game to go as it did last year with Chugiak losing. For Coach Wild, he wanted it for the kids because they worked hard for many years for this day and it was important for the kids.
When asked how they won the game, defenseman Kaden Yockey said, “Coming in prepared for the game.” Forward, Grant Epple said, “Jack Walters was a key to helping us win and we pressured them every time they had the puck.” Because of Walter’s amazing saves, he got voted anonymously the Player of the Game for Chugiak.
Coach Wild agrees with all of the accolades for Walters, a guy described by all who know him as a humble, consistent player.
“Jack Walters had so much poise and confidence and he was rock solid in the net,” Wild said.
Editor’s Note: Keara Chaperon is a student at the Alaska Middle College and Chugiak High School. She is also a hockey player. Her knowledge of the game has been instrumental in providing coverage of CHS hockey for the ECHO News. She is a valued part of our team and we look forward to the writing she does in the future.