Lake Tahoe Blue close out 2014-15 season on home ice
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey club ended a challenging 2014-15 campaign in entertaining fashion last weekend at SLT Ice Arena. The Blue finished the season high spirits despite losing three games to visiting Butte, and brought things to a close with an 8-6 defeat last Sunday.
“It was a fun game — the guys just had a blast,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “We put in instruction, but it was more about the guys enjoying their last game together. It was very memorable and it was a lot of fun.”
Lake Tahoe entered the three-game set needing a sweep of the Cobras to have a chance at making the playoffs. In the series opener Friday night, the Blue’s postseason hopes were dashed with a wild 9-7 loss that saw eight goals combined in the third period.
“The biggest thing is that we were a little bit too wound up,” Richardson said. “We competed very, very hard — but there’s a difference between competing hard and playing the game smart, and playing the game kind of dumb.”
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The Blue conceded a penalty 27 seconds into Friday night’s game — but managed to go in front shortly after. Yanik Frisch scored shorthanded off an assist from Julius Bauermeister with 19:07 left in the first period to make it 1-0.
Butte took advantage of the early power play, tying the game less than a minute later. The score was tied 2-2 at the first intermission — Lake Tahoe’s Vladislav Polyashov knotted the game with six minutes left in the frame.
After both teams traded goals early in the second period, the Cobras scored twice to take a 5-3 lead into the second intermission. Sheamus Stoyle found the back of the net for Lake Tahoe in the second off assists from Julian Davis and Nikita Velmakin.
The Cobras scored twice in the first three minutes of the third period, and kept Lake Tahoe at a distance the rest of the way to eliminate the Blue from playoff contention. Down 7-3 midway through the third, Lake Tahoe scored twice in 75 seconds — goals from Bauermeister and Igor Stibysh — to pull within two goals.
Butte scored 15 seconds after Stibysh’s goal, then answered Velmakin’s second of the game later in the period to maintain a two-goal lead. Davis scored the game’s 16th goal in the closing seconds of the third period — the contest was played in front of 450 fans, most of which were at the arena early for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation head-shaving fundraiser.
“It was exciting for the fans,” Richardson said.
Freshly out of the playoff picture, Lake Tahoe suffered a 4-0 defeat to Butte on Saturday. Cobras goaltender Tage Rustgi stopped all 30 shots he faced as the Blue were blanked for the sixth time this season.
“We knew Friday night that we were done, and it kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Richardson said. “We just couldn’t score and we got in trouble with penalties — all four of their goals were scored on special teams.”
Butte opened the scoring late in the first period, and scored three times in the second to take control of the game. The first and third period of Saturday’s game featured fights right after the opening faceoff.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Blue closed out the season with an entertaining 8-6 loss to Butte. Lake Tahoe scored four straight goals after falling behind 7-1 in the second period, but its comeback ultimately fell short to end the campaign with a defeat.
“It was a good way to end the year,” Richardson said.
The Cobras scored the first three goals of the contest against goaltender Jason Footlick, and the Blue got on the board with a goal from Drake DeBerry that made it 3-1 with 11:14 left in the opening period. Butte began the second period with four straight goals to take a six-goal lead — then Lake Tahoe got its attack going.
The Blue scored a pair of goals 40 seconds apart — tallies from Bauermeister and Luke Erickson — to make it 7-3. Lake Tahoe then scored the first two of the third period two pull within two goals — a power play goal from Hunter Lovdokken with 10:44 left and a goal from Brandon Aab four minutes later.
Butte ended the Blue’s run — and chance of a comeback — by extending its lead to 8-5 with 3:53 to play. Polyashov capped the scoring with 11 seconds left, beating Rustgi for Lake Tahoe’s final goal of the 2014-15 season.
“We had a variety of different people score and the 94s were all involved in some action, which was pretty cool for those kids aging out,” Richardson said.
In its first season with Richardson as head coach and general manager, Lake Tahoe had its share of struggles in a tough division. The Blue finished seventh in the WSHL Northwest Division with 17 points and a 7-36-2-1 overall record, missing the playoffs by five points.
“There were a few things that we all wished would have been a little bit better — every time we got rolling, we couldn’t keep the momentum in our favor,” Richardson said. “I love the group itself to death — they work very, very hard and I’ve very proud of them.
“It became a family right away — it was a very tight group.”
While starting from scratch in the second year of the franchise, Lake Tahoe intentionally fielded a young team to build a strong foundation for seasons to come. Richardson believes the team made strides during the 2014-15 season that will show when it takes the ice next fall.
“The culture was laid down really well, and I thank all of the older players we had here for teaching the younger guys,” Richardson said. “We have a really young team compared to the rest of the league — and I think that’s an exciting thing for next year because we’re going to have so many guys that are able to come back.
“It’s going to be a very long offseason, but we’ll take a few days to close this out and get ready for next year.”
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