I thought I had missed the start of the high school hockey season upon entering the MAC Center on Sunday evening. Standing in the lobby dressed in a suit and tie as if to coach the Mustangs was Head Coach Rodney Wild and Assistant Coach Walter Eunice.
No, it wasn’t the start of the high school season, it was the start of the ERHL’s AA Division.
Both Wild and Eunice have volunteered to help coach the more novice players of the league. Eunice related that when the ERHL was being planned, the organizers were amazed how much interest to play adult league hockey. So much so, the AA Division has enough players to field six teams. For some players, this is their first time playing and Wild and Eunice wanted to help.
Coach Wild conducted the ceremonial puck drop to get the season underway. The Nation Anthem was sung by Chugiak High School senior Adeline Watson.
The first of three games scheduled for the evening featured Steller Designs coached by Wild against Cubs Painting coached by Eunice.With a Steller Design player whistled for tripping, thirty seconds later the Cubby’s Ryan Ciolkosz scored a power-play goal to start off the scoring at 12:02 of the first period. Later in the period, referee Powell Gallagher waved off a second goal by the Cubs ruling the puck was kicked into the net. Cubs did score again in the first on a laser wrist shot from the top of the left circle by Nate Curnow. The teams traded goals in the second period. Steller got on the board with a goal from longtime Eagle River resident and youth hockey coach Robert McCormick. Curnow got his second goal of the game at 4:43.
The third period saw a flurry of action starting with another disallowed goal for the Cubs. It was ruled that a Cubs player was in the goal crease before the puck entering the net. The score 3-1, with time winding down, Steller’s David Koninski found the back of the net at 2:11 remaining. Coach Wild pulled the Steller goaltender for an extra attacker, and it worked. With 1:23 remaining, Todd Dudinsky punched it in following a scramble in front of the net to tie the game at 3-3. Coach Eunice pulled his Goalie in the remaining seconds in hopes to win it, but time ran out. The game ended in a tie.
GAME TWO FEATURED EAGLE RIVER ALE HOUSE vs. SHINES
The first period saw both teams trade goals. First, for Shines, Nick Bennett netted one at 1:33. ER Alehouse forward and longtime youth hockey coach, Dan Watts notched a tally as the first period was almost over at .07 seconds.
It was all ER Alehouse in the second period. Goals were scored by Garrett Riley, and two by Karl Greninger. The second period ended 4-1.
In what was the best-executed play of the evening came at 10:01 of the third period. Alehouse defenseman made a perfect breakout pass to Karl Grinninger who carried the puck up ice in a give and go, two on one, odd man rush. Shines goaltender, Neff Anastasio had no chance as Cody Pittman wristed the puck into the back of the net. Alehouse added one more to the score sheet by Matt Crosbie making it 6-1.
NEVER GIVE UP SPIRIT
A determined Shines team didn’t give up. A highlight for shines was Nick Bennett. He scored two more goals, in the final seconds, one with .47 seconds and then again with .03 on the clock. This is the first hat trick of the season for the newly formed ERHL. Eagle River Alehouse held on to win 6-3.
Following the game, I spoke to the first woman playing in the league, Angela Sonnier. She plays for Shines and was a Lady Mustang 12 years ago. Sonnier who also has a son that plays hockey was delighted her son was in stands cheering for her which she said is normally reversed.
GAME THREE: PLAY IT AGAIN SPORTS vs. ODD MAN RUSH BREWERY
In the final game of the evening, the first period was a back and forth affair with solid defense by both teams. The only penalties of the game came in the first period. Play it Again, was called for too many men on the ice at 10:59 and OMR for Interference at .35.
Play It Again was coached by Eunice and OMR coached by Wild. Play It Again opened the scoring with a goal by Todd Blackley at 16:20. The second goal by Play It Again was scored with a nice wrister from the top of the left circle by Johnny McCormick. OMR goat a goal from Michael Tencza to round out the second period, making it 2-1.
THIRD PERIOD ACTION
The intensity heated up in the third period, which led to both teams chirping at one another with some good-natured ribbing – adding to the excitement. Both coaches were giving detailed instructions in hopes of winning. At 12:01, OMR’s Jason Novotny notched the tying goal, making it 2-2. Play It Again got the next two from Jeff Schroeder and Rob Sackerson. Making it 4-2.
STILL NOT OVER
As the speed and intensity heated up, Coach Wild pulled the goaltender for an extra attacker. OMR got a goal from Michael Filarski, making it 4-3 with .12 seconds remaining. With OMR’s net still empty, a breakout pass found Play It Again forward Scott Hatenburg wide open, and he put the puck into the empty net making it an exciting 5-3 finish.
I spoke to Hattenburg, who previously coached youth hockey players with the Mustang Hockey Association and also played adult league in Anchorage after the game in the locker room. He stated, “It feels good to be back on the ice, and this league has put fun back into adult hockey.” From the conversations with other players, this sentiment resonates throughout both divisions of the ERHL.
Daniel Shepard is a freelance photojournalist and regular contributor for the ECHO News. He lives and owns a photography business in Eagle River. To learn more about Dan Shepard Photography, visit dan-shepardphotography.com. To reach Dan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.