Lake Tahoe Blue steals one from Southern Oregon, stays within reach of playoffs
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey club did something it hasn’t done all season last weekend to stay within reach of the postseason. The Blue beat Southern Oregon 5-2 last Friday at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena, notching their first win over the Spartans this year.
“It was a complete team game and it was really good to see — we played a good complete hockey game and so did Southern Oregon,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “It was a fun game to be a part of.”
In Friday’s series opener, Lake Tahoe ended a six-game losing streak against the Spartans with a 5-2 win. Five different players scored for the Blue as they knocked off the visitors to deliver a pair of crucial points.
“That was probably the best game we’ve played all year,” Richardson said. “It wasn’t any one specific thing — when things didn’t go our way we stuck together, really fought through it and made sure we couldn’t get into any kind of bad situation.”
After a scoreless first period, Southern Oregon struck first on a goal midway through the second. Lake Tahoe answered with goals from Luke Erickson and Nikita Velmakin in the last three minutes to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.
Less than a minute into the third period, Lake Tahoe converted on a power play when Igor Stibysh found the back of the net off an assist from Nicholas Lang to make it 3-1. Southern Oregon made it a one-goal game three minutes later, but the Blue were able to stay in front.
Brandon Aab scored off an assist from Hunter Lovdokken with 7:37 left in the game to put Lake Tahoe ahead 4-2. The Blue iced the contest in the dying seconds when Lovdokken hit the empty net.
“Most of the games we’ve played against them have been tight hockey games,” Richardson said. “Friday night we had some bounces go our way — it was really exciting and a really good feeling.”
The Blue beat Southern Oregon on Friday despite being outshot by a 2-to-1 margin. Goaltender Nick Bretzger stopped 36 shots in the victory as part of a strong series between the pipes.
“Nick stood on his head the entire series — he came up huge for us,” Richardson said.
Friday’s victory preceded a pair of lopsided defeats for the Blue, as Southern Oregon won Saturday and Sunday to take the series. On Saturday, Lake Tahoe surrendered a season-high 14 goals in a 14-4 loss to the Spartans.
“We couldn’t contain the momentum, and if you can’t contain the momentum against Southern Oregon you are going to get pushed around,” Richardson said.
Southern Oregon opened the scoring midway through the first period Saturday, but Lake Tahoe answered with a Julius Bauermeister unassisted goal to tie the game with 9:04 remaining. The Spartans then closed the first period with four straight goals — and added four more in the second to take a 9-1 lead.
“It was a huge momentum swing and we couldn’t crawl out of that,” Richardson said.
Lake Tahoe showed signs of life early in the third period, getting goals from Lang, Stibysh and Aab in the first 3:08 of the frame to make it 9-4. But the Spartans found their scoring streak again, netting five unanswered goals to hand the Blue a 10-goal defeat.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Blue couldn’t find a rhythm in a 7-0 loss. After an even start, Southern Oregon scored three times in the second and third periods to take the series with a decisive victory.
“Nothing in any sense went our way,” Richardson said. “We couldn’t get any kind of possession, we couldn’t get to the blue paint and we couldn’t keep them out of the blue paint.”
Lake Tahoe trailed 1-0 after the first period, and was down three goals when it missed an opportunity to get back in the game. With seven minutes left in the second period, the Blue were awarded a five-minute power play — but five seconds after the ensuing faceoff a hooking penalty on Aab negated their advantage.
“It was a huge chance missed — if we could have got one or two in that five-minute power play, the game totally changes,” Richardson said. “We were still very much alive at that time, but that killed us.”
Just more than a minute into the four-on-four action, Southern Oregon scored to take a commanding 4-0 lead. The Spartans pulled away in a third period that saw 38 combined penalty minutes and game misconducts for Aab and Southern Oregon’s Drew Carriere.
After winning one of three against Southern Oregon, Lake Tahoe (7-30-2-1) sits in seventh place in the WSHL Northwest Division standings with 17 points. With six games left the Blue are two points behind Seattle for the last playoff spot, and five points shy of fifth-place Butte — both teams were swept last weekend.
“It helps us in a lot of different ways — we knew if we could steal one that we could get within a win of that playoff spot,” Richardson said. “If we can steal a few more, we’re going to be in.”
Lake Tahoe returns to action Friday night against league-leading Idaho, when it begins a three-game series with the Steelheads at McCall Ice Center. The Blue wrap up the regular season at home with a three-game set against Butte beginning Friday, Feb. 27.
“It’s going to come down to the wire,” Richardson said. “Instead of looking at trying to get in, we have to take each game at a time and just focus on playing good hockey.”
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