Lake Tahoe Blue suffer frustrating sweep against Missoula
Lake Tahoe Blue at Whitefish
Friday 7:05 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m., Sunday 5:05 p.m.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — A lack of success has led to frustration for the Lake Tahoe Blue hockey team — and the Blue played like a frustrated club last weekend. Lake Tahoe was swept by Missoula in a three-game series at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena, its sixth straight division series without a win.
“We can stay frustrated and all that or we can grind together, work together and get out of this very deep hole that we dug ourselves into,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “We’re taking the better option — we’re trying to dig out of that hole.”
In Friday night’s series opener, Lake Tahoe delivered a flat performance in a 6-2 loss to the Maulers. Missoula scored twice in each period on the way to victory — for the Blue, forwards Nicholas Lang and Sheamus Stoyle each found the back of the net.
“I was very disappointed with the effort of our group — it was embarrassing,” Richardson said. “Nothing was there.”
The Blue picked up their effort level in the second game of the series, but didn’t play smart enough to challenge Missoula. The Maulers dominated possession and scoring chances Saturday en route to an 8-0 victory over Lake Tahoe.
“We worked really hard but we played really dumb,” Richardson said. “Missoula is a very strong team to play against, but our recovery plan and a plan of attack how to execute wasn’t there.”
In Lake Tahoe’s third shutout loss of the season, frustration began to set in. That played out on the ice in the form of individual play in the attacking zone.
“The one-on-one play really crept in when everyone starting getting frustrated with each other,” Richardson said. “We had a frustrated team tonight — and I think it was a lot of carry over from Friday night.
“You can work all you want, but if you don’t work together inside of a structure you’re not going to find success.”
In the series finale Sunday, the Blue bounced back but couldn’t avoid the sweep. Missoula scored six unanswered goals in a 7-1 win, their eighth straight.
“We battled and we worked really hard,” Richardson said. “We made a step forward after taking about 10 giant leaps backward, so that was good.”
Lake Tahoe trailed 1-0 after the first period, and tied the game up four minutes into the second when defenseman Nicholas Sprake scored a goal assisted by Lang and forward Kristers Seps. Missoula reclaimed the lead nine minutes later with the first of three second-period goals — then added three more in the third period.
“Missoula scores in bunches — they’re a team that’s able to score two or three goals really quickly,” Richardson said. “That’s what they did on Sunday — they gave themselves some momentum.”
The Blue struggled to play their style against Missoula, in part due to recent roster shake-ups. Lake Tahoe has made three transactions since Jan. 5, and Richardson said the team’s identity is in flux as a result.
“We got away from what made us who we are, and a lot of that has to do with our identity,” Richardson said. “When you make some trades like we have in the past two weeks, your identity as a team might change a little bit — I didn’t think it was going to shake things up as much as it did.
“Now it’s about us again — we’re going through everything again and getting everybody back on the same page.”
Lake Tahoe is currently last in the WSHL Northwest Division standings with 12 points (5-24-2-0). The Blue are one point behind Seattle for the division’s last playoff spot — the Totems have lost 22 straight games since starting the season 6-4.
The Blue return to action next Friday for a three-game road series against the Whitefish Wolverines at Stumptown Ice Den — it will be the first time in six series not playing a top-three team. Friday and Saturday’s games start at 7:05 p.m. — the puck drops for Sunday’s series finale at 5:05 p.m.
“If we take care of our process, the game will go in our favor,” Richardson said. “We can’t just go in there and assume that things will go amazing because we’re not playing a top-two team.”
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