The winter solstice is the shortest darkest day of the year. But on December 21st, the Mac Center in Eagle River was filled with light. Enthusiastic fans came to cheer on their favorite high school hockey team, and they brought gifts as well.
Each year, the Mustangs and the Wolves take this opportunity to support a local charity. These rivals come to the game to win, but both teams know that this game is about more than just bragging rights.
This year 500 items were collected for Covenant House. Gloves, socks, hair products, makeup, headphones, hats, cash, and baked goods were delivered the next day.
This was a special night for some young skaters as well. Six players from the two Mustang Hockey Association Mites teams were invited to warm up with the high school players. Wolves and Mustang players had a great time, as did the Mites. When it was time to announce the lineup, they skated up to the blueline with their buddies in tow. Once players shook hands, and Mites were off the ice, it was time to get down to business.
The game lived up to the hype and anticipated battle among friends.
This was the first meeting between the cross-town rivals this year. The Mustangs were playing with a short bench, 11 skaters, and two goalies. The Wolves had a full roster of 17.
It was back and forth with almost even shots on goal for both teams in the first period. Seven shots on net by the Wolves and eight for the Mustangs. It was scoreless for the first period; the only penalty of the game was called on the Wolves for tripping.
It was full throttle in the second. The Mustangs broke the scoreless tie at 14:13 when Grant Epple banged home a rebound. As play continued, and the Mustangs were circling the Wolves net, Wolves netminder Ryan Gray stopped a point-blank Mustang shot and the Wolves fans energized the arena.
Back the other way, Wolves fired several shots on net, all saved by Mustang goalie Riley Fugere, which pumped the crowd even more.
At 7:40, just inside the Wolves blueline, Mustang Jacob Kosinski fed a pass to Riley Lindberg who let loose with a slapshot. The puck made its way through traffic and found the back of the Wolves net, making the score 2-0, Mustangs. As the battle in the corners continued, the determined Wolves kept the pressure on the Mustangs. Less than a minute later, Wolves forward Ty McEnaney showed his stickhandling skill as he weaved his way through the Mustang defense and wristed the puck over Fugere’s shoulder, making the score 2-1. Wolves fans pump up the volume which seemed to rally the Wolves.
Following another shot on the Mustang net a minute later, a scramble in the crease ensued. Out of the cluster of players, Wolves defenseman, Nat Nielsen emerged with a raised stick celebrating a goal. With no signal indicating a goal, the referees gathered to discuss the play. After a tense moment that silenced the rowdy crowd, referee Travis Jackson skated to center ice and signaled that the Wolves goal was good. The score was tied at 2-2.
Just as hoped, it would come down to the third period.
Both teams got some good shots on net only to be turned aside by the goaltenders. Midway through the third, after receiving a pass from Jarett Beckett, Luke Momblow lit the lamp for the Mustangs on a wrister that beat a screened Ryan Gray for the go-ahead goal. As the period was winding down, the Wolves called a timeout following a Mustang icing whistle at 1:14. With the ensuing faceoff in the Mustang end, the Wolves pulled Gray for the extra attacker. The Chugiak defense held on as the Wolves circled the Mustang net in a desperate attempt to tie the score.
Time expired, Mustangs 3 – Wolves 2.
The game stats showed 21 saves for Wolves goalie Ryan Gray and 23 saves for Mustang goalie Riley Fugere.
The two teams play each other again in the last regular game of the season on January 25, 2018, at the Mac Center.
Additional donations to the Covenant House can be dropped off or mailed to:
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.