Lake Tahoe Blue compete, come up empty against Idaho
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey club faced Idaho for the second straight time — and showed improvement against the WSHL Northwest Division leaders despite coming up empty. The Jr. Steelheads swept the Blue in a three-game series at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena last weekend, remaining unbeaten in regulation this season.
“This was a great test for us as a group — we aren’t getting the wins right now, but we’re not playing bad hockey,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “It was entertaining, it was fast and we did a lot of good things on both sides of the puck — we just have to keep getting better.”
For Lake Tahoe, the highlight of the series was a 3-0 defeat Saturday night. The Blue had allowed 29 goals to Idaho in the previous four contests between the teams, and held the Jr. Steelheads scoreless for the last 37 minutes — over the last two periods, Lake Tahoe had a 16-8 advantage in scoring chances.
“I thought Saturday was probably the most complete game that we’ve played thus far this year — it was a full 60-minute game, and we were right into it,” Richardson said. “It was encouraging, and it shows that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Blue goaltender Nick Bretzger stopped 47 shots in the loss, as part of a weekend of strong performances in net. Bretzger faced constant pressure from Idaho throughout the series.
“Every single night that Nick plays, he gives us a chance to win,” Richardson said. “Shift after shift, shot after shot, he gave us a chance to win every single night for the last six games — we’re really proud of him.”
In Friday’s series opener, Lake Tahoe fell to Idaho 6-1. The Jr. Steelheads scored six unanswered goals en route to victory, including three in the third period to win going away.
“Throughout the week in practice, we made a lot of adjustments — and tonight we executed them pretty well,” Richardson said after the loss. “Our coverage was good until a four-minute span in the third period where we just got soft.”
Forward Alexander Lobachev scored the Blue’s lone goal on Friday, an unassisted breakaway score. Idaho answered with three goals in the first period — including two on the power play — and held a 3-1 lead after a scoreless second period.
“If you look at the game five-on-five, it was a one-goal game until the 16-minute mark of the third period,” Richardson said. “They had a lot of shots, but they didn’t have a lot of Grade ‘A’ scoring chances — we kept them to the outside, and we forced them to play a lot of defense.”
Sunday’s series finale played out in similar fashion as the opener, as Idaho completed the sweep with a 7-1 victory. Lake Tahoe was tied with the Jr. Steelheads 1-1 after the first period, then Idaho scored six unanswered goals — including three early in the third period.
“We had a bad four minutes in the third period — and when you have bad shifts like that against teams like Idaho, they’re going to make you suffer,” Richardson said.
Idaho opened the scoring seven minutes into the opening period of Sunday’s game. Lake Tahoe answered with a goal late in the first period to tie the game — forward Vladislav Polyashov scored assisted by forwards Kristers Seps and Sheamus Stoyle.
“We possessed the puck a lot on Sunday, we just didn’t score,” Richardson said. “We had the puck on our stick in the second period a lot longer than Idaho did, and that was something we’ve been really working on — possessing the puck instead of having to recover it all the time.”
In its second straight weekend series against the top team in its division, Lake Tahoe conceded seven fewer goals and was in every game. The Blue put together a series of solid performances even though the end results were defeats.
“The biggest thing is just the compete level — we have stressed all the time since day one of training camp that we have to compete,” Richardson said. “Our group has always worked hard, but playing Idaho six in a row forced us to jump a few stories higher.
“It gave us a lot of teaching material and really taught us how hard we have to play every single day — that’s the expectation now.”
Lake Tahoe (4-13-1-0) currently sits in last place in the division standings with nine points — one point behind sixth-place Butte. The Blue travel to play second-place Southern Oregon (Medford, Ore.) at The Rrrink in a two-game series that starts Friday night — the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.
“We’re excited about the challenge — we’re expecting to go in there and come out with our points,” Richardson said. “They’re a fast team and a dangerous team off the rush — they’re a very good defensive-minded team, and if they turn over the puck they turn it over with a plan.”
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