Lake Tahoe Blue snaps slide at Western States Shootout
LAS VEGAS — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey club went to the Western States Shootout with two objectives — and took care of both. The Blue kept itself in playoff position by earning three points in four games, and promoted its players to the 90 college and minor league scouts on hand at the WSHL’s 14th-annual midseason showcase held Dec. 16-20.
“I give a lot of credit to every organization in our league,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “After speaking with scouts that had gone to other league showcases, everyone said that our league is by far the fastest league, one of the most physical and the most skilled at our level.”
Lake Tahoe opened the showcase with a 3-2 overtime loss against the Wichita Jr. Thunder (Kan.) Dec. 16 at Las Vegas Ice Center, a result that ended a 10-game stretch without points. A back-and-forth struggle played out over the two 25-minute halves, and the Jr. Thunder struck 80 seconds into overtime to deliver the victory.
“Wichita is a very skilled team — they have a lot of speed and they’re extremely dangerous,” Richardson said. “We did a great job of shutting down their top guys, but they did a great job on the defensive side and we couldn’t really get anything established.”
The Blue scored the first two goals of the game before Wichita rallied to force overtime in the second half. Lake Tahoe forward Vladislav Polyashov scored the lone goal of the first period — a power play tally assisted by forwards Yanik Frisch and David Raus — and forward Alexander Lobachev made it 2-0 early in the second period with a goal assisted by forward Julius Bauermeister and defenseman Matt Brzozowiec.
“It was a really good hockey game, but neither side got the chance to really establish their game — all of the scoring came off the rush,” Richardson said.
The following day, Lake Tahoe rode a fast start to a 6-2 win over the Arizona Redhawks (Peoria, Ariz.) at Las Vegas Ice Arena. The Blue scored four goals in the first half as they brought a decisive end to an 11-game losing streak.
“Winning is a special thing and it’s not an easy thing to do — the group was really happy and it felt good to get off that streak,” Richardson said.
Lake Tahoe opened the scoring less than three minutes into the game with a goal from Edgardo Cambari Arroyo, the first of the Argentine’s junior hockey career. Less than 90 seconds later, Lobachev found the back of the net — he added another and Polyashov scored to give the Blue a 4-1 lead after the first half against a Redhawks club that featured three former teammates.
“We talked about how this was going to be an emotional game and it could go either way — it could be extremely tight and not in our favor, or if we get up quickly they might shut down,” Richardson said. “That’s exactly what happened.”
Arizona pulled within two goals in the second half, but Lake Tahoe closed out the game with a pair of late scores. Polyashov scored on the power play with 6:12 left and Bauermeister added a goal in the last minute of regulation.
“We gave our heads a shake and we got back into the swing of things,” Richardson said. “We went back out in the second period and absolutely dominated.”
Against the Colorado Evolution (Denver) on Dec. 18, Lake Tahoe let one get away. The Blue lost to the Evolution 6-3 at Las Vegas Ice Arena despite outshooting their opponents by a 5-to-1 margin.
“We worked so hard to get scoring chances, but when it came down to it we weren’t finishing,” Richardson said. “When you’re outshooting teams by that much, you have control of the game for that long and you lose like that, there’s something wrong.”
Lake Tahoe traded goals with Colorado in the first half, and the teams were tied 2-2 at the break — Frisch opened the scoring and Polyashov scored the team’s second. The Evolution scored first in the second half, and Lobachev answered to tie the game 3-3 — but Colorado retook the lead midway through the frame and added a pair of empty net goals in the last minute to secure the win.
“It was not a game we should have lost,” Richardson said.
In its showcase finale on Dec. 19, the Blue lost to the Dallas Snipers (Euless, Texas) 7-2 at SoBe Ice Arena. Lake Tahoe started slow and couldn’t recover in its earliest game of the season.
Lake Tahoe trailed Dallas 14 seconds after the opening faceoff, and faced a 6-2 deficit after the first half. Lobachev and forward Charlie Hammerback scored for the Blue in the first period — after the break, the teams combined for one goal.
Following the showcase, Lake Tahoe (5-19-2-0) sits seventh in the WSHL Northwest Division standings with 12 points. The Blue are one point behind Seattle for the division’s last playoff spot entering the second half of the season.
“Every point matters, and that’s going to be the theme for the second half of the year — we have to collect points,” Richardson said. “We know how to play the game, we have a structure and it’s working — now we have to bear down.”
Lake Tahoe’s players return to practice on Sunday, Jan. 4, and the team returns to action with a two-game series at Southern Oregon (Medford, Ore.) beginning Jan. 9. The Blue’s first home series of the second half is a three-game set against Missoula (Mont.) that starts Friday, Jan. 23.