The excitement is palpable at the MAC Center. Spectators pour through the lobby to fill the stands. It’s opening day for the Eagle River Hockey League, and the players already have fans.
They walk right up to the boards, saying hello and shaking hands with the players. This is a community league, and these athletes are their friends and family.
The crowd is full of anticipation.
The mascot makes an appearance.
We stand for the National Anthem.
The first puck is dropped.
Let the season begin.
The first game matched Garcia’s and Jalapenos. Once the puck dropped, it was all business. The competitive spirit rose to the top as these former high school stars, junior hockey league players, college and pro standout players battled it out on the ice.
FIRST EAGLE RIVER HOCKEY LEAGUE GOAL
The first goal of the game came at 11:24 of the first period, scored by none other than Brian Swanson of Eagle River. “Swanny” as he known by his friends and teammates is no newcomer to the game. Swanson has an impressive resume as a hockey player. Four years playing for Colorado College and a Hobey Baker Award finalist in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. After college, he was drafted into the National Hockey League playing a total of 70 games. He played for the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL and wrapped up his career playing for the Alaska Aces. Swanson also played in the American Hockey League and several years in Europe along the way.
Garcia’s nettender, Joey Lindquist kept the team in the game making some heroic saves. Lindquist saw more rubber than the Michelin Tire Man. A couple of pucks clanked off the crossbar, giving Lindquist a little help but not enough. Although there were no official “shots on goal,” Jalapenos definitely had more “shots on net.” In addition to Swanson’s goal, another first-period goal was scored by Brandon Spoerhase. The second period saw a goal from Billy Bagron and the third period had two goals. Dustin Smith got one at 4:19 and Andre Wright ended the game scoring with 2:12 remaining. In the end, Jalapenos was too much for Garcia’s, winning 5-0.
I caught up with Robert Monfore after the game. The former CHS and UAA–Fairbanks player stated, “It’s great to be back playing with the boys – it’s fun to play with generations of Chugiak players.” Monfore was an assistant coach last season with the state high school champions, the Chugiak Mustangs.
GAME TWO: HOMESTEADERS VS PIZZA MAN
The second game of the evening featured Homestead Lounge against Pizza Man. It was full throttle from start to finish. Great saves by both teams early made for an entertaining first period. It appeared Homestead scored first at 3:30 of the first period. That goal was waved off because of a high stick penalty which would prove costly later in the contest.
HOMESTEAD SCORES FIRST
At 16:01 of the second period, Adam Powell scored for the Homesteaders, followed by a second Homestead goal at 7:53 by Korey Day. Pizza Man got on the board late in the period with a goal from former Chugiak High School standout Michael McCurtain.
Shortly after the third period started, Homestead was whistled for a high stick penalty – that was all Pizza Man needed. Another former Chugiak High star, Brett Segal, notched a power-play tieing the game at 2-2. Less than a minute later, Homestead’s Jesse Johnson put one in the back of the net for the go-ahead goal with 10:12 remaining. More exceptional work by both goaltenders fired up both teams. As time was running down, it appeared Homestead had this one locked up.
IT’S NOT OVER TILL IT’S OVER
With Pizza Man putting on the pressure, Homestead defense iced the puck at .50 seconds. This gave Pizza Man time to pull the goaltender for an extra attacker. Homestead attempted to freeze the puck on the end boards. With all the pushing and shoving the puck popped loose and another former Chugiak varsity player, Jake Thompson put the puck in the back of the net with 7.7 seconds remaining to tie the game.
While making his way to the locker-room, Michael McCurtain related how fun it was to play with his former teammates and make new ones. McCurtain quipped with a big smile. “Awesome finish, eh!”
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.