Lake Tahoe Blue in playoff position after Whitefish series
NEXT BLUE SERIES
Lake Tahoe Blue at Seattle
Friday and Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 2:15 p.m.
WHITEFISH, Mont. — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey team ended a lengthy drought in division play last weekend — and got back into playoff position as a result. The Blue beat Whitefish 6-4 last Saturday in the middle of a three-game series at Stumptown Ice Den, a much needed victory following 16 straight losses within its division.
“We had a very happy group — we’ve been in that same spot for weeks,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “The plan is to keep pushing forward — we did what we wanted to do.”
Last Saturday, Lake Tahoe beat the Wolverines 6-4 for its first victory of the second half. The Blue scored four third-period goals to hold off the hosts and win its first WSHL game since beating Arizona in the Western States Shootout on Dec. 17.
“It was a very, very tight checking game and it was a good hockey game,” Richardson said. “We battled, and it felt good to do that and come out on top.”
Whitefish opened the scoring with a short-handed goal in the first period, but Lake Tahoe answered with a pair of power play goals 54 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead into the intermission. Forward Yanik Frisch tied the game off assists from forwards Julius Bauermeister and Charlie Hammerback — less than a minute later, forward Brandon Aab found the back of the net assisted by defensemen Luke Erickson and Julian Davis.
After a scoreless second period, the Blue outlasted Whitefish in a third period that featured seven combined goals. The Wolverines tied the game with 13:30 to play, but Lake Tahoe reclaimed the lead with a goal from forward Hunter Lovdokken — who moved from defense at the start of the series — assisted by Bauermeister and Aab.
With just less than five minutes to play, Lovdokken scored off assists from Bauermeister and Aab to make it 4-2. Whitefish scored twice before time ran out, but Lake Tahoe answered both times with empty net goals — Bauermeister’s empty netter with 38 seconds left sealed the victory for the Blue.
Paired together as line partners for the first time all season, Lovdokken, Bauermeister and Aab provided a spark for the Blue throughout its series against Whitefish. The trio accounted for Lake Tahoe’s last five goals in Saturday’s win, and combined for 24 points in the series.
“That line was the dominant line for the whole weekend — it was a lot of fun to watch them play,” Richardson said. “Everything clicked for them — those three played off each other well.”
In Friday’s series opener, Lake Tahoe suffered a 5-3 defeat to the Wolverines. The Blue erased a three-goal deficit to tie the game up in the third period, but Whitefish scored the game-winning goal with 2:02 left in regulation before adding an empty net goal.
“Neither team really played all that well — no one really got their game established and nothing was really flowing to it,” Richardson said.
Lake Tahoe trailed 1-0 after the first period on Friday, and fell behind 3-0 less than five minutes into the second. Later in the frame, Aab scored the Blue’s first goal of the series assisted by Bauermeister and defenseman Cestmir Dolezel III, and Lake Tahoe trailed 3-1 at the second intermission.
In the third period, the Blue scored twice early to tie the game. Nineteen seconds after the faceoff, Bauermeister scored assisted by Lovdokken and Erickson — and just more than five minutes later, forward Nicholas Lang made it 3-3 off assists from forward David Raus and Erickson. The game remained deadlocked until the last two minutes, when Whitefish forward Tyler Latimer broke the tie.
“We came back and tied it, but in the end they got it,” Richardson said.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Blue fell to Whitefish 5-1. Lake Tahoe didn’t get on the board until the third period of the defeat — by then, the Wolverines already had a 5-0 lead.
“Whitefish had a very, very good first period and we weren’t all that sharp,” Richardson said.
Forward Kristers Seps scored the Blue’s only goal in its series-ending loss, a power play tally assisted by Lovdokken and Aab. Lake Tahoe outshot Whitefish in the loss, and finished 1-for-12 on the power play.
“I give credit to their goaltender — we were all over them in the second and the third,” Richardson said.
After winning one of three at Whitefish, Lake Tahoe (6-26-2-0) moved into sixth place in the WSHL Northwest Division standings with 14 points. The Blue jumped Seattle (6-29-1-0, 13 points) to move into playoff position — the last-place Totems have lost 25 straight games.
“We got out of that rut, we’re in that final playoff spot — and now instead of trying to push to get in, it’s a lot easier now to keep striving forward,” Richardson said. “We’re a step ahead now — we don’t have to be the ones chasing it, now we’re defending.”
Lake Tahoe returns to action Friday night in a three-game road set against Seattle at Olympic View Arena that has significant postseason implications for both teams. Friday and Saturday’s games start at 7:15 p.m. — the puck drops for Sunday’s series finale at 2 p.m.
“This is essentially playoff hockey — if we want to continue to play in the future, we need the points,” Richardson said. “It’s about winning — we’re in the playoffs now and that’s the mentality that we have to take.
“This is a big weekend and the guys understand that.”
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