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Lake Tahoe Blue swept at Seattle, falls out of playoff position

Anthony Gentile
agentile@tahoedailytribune.com
Lake Tahoe forward Nikita Velmakin had three goals and an assist in the Blue’s three-game series at Seattle last weekend.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey team faced Seattle on the road last weekend in a series with playoff implications — and left without a victory. The Blue were swept by the Totems in a three-game set at Olympic View Arena, claiming one point while dropping outside of postseason position in the WSHL Northwest Division.

“They were all big momentum games — and we couldn’t gain control of it,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said. “We couldn’t get inside the dots, we couldn’t get to the net and we couldn’t create a lot of offense because of it.”

In Friday’s series opener, Lake Tahoe lost to Seattle 5-4 in a game that decided by a shootout. The Blue watched a three-goal vanish before rallying to force overtime — after two scoreless overtime periods, they fell to the Totems 1-0 in the shootout.

The Blue had a 2-0 lead after the first period, with forwards David Raus and Nikita Velmakin each scoring in the last five minutes of the opening frame. Forward Yanik Frisch put Lake Tahoe up by three early in the second period — later in the frame is when Seattle began its comeback that included four unanswered goals.

“We started off really hot — and after we got up 3-0, the momentum shifted,” Richardson said. “Seattle picked up a lot of momentum in the game and when you give up momentum and can’t get it back, you never know what will happen.”

The Totems got on the board late in the second period, cutting Lake Tahoe’s lead to 3-1 by the second intermission. A pair of goals midway through the third period tied the game up, and forward Erik Danna put Seattle ahead 4-3 with 1:48 to play.

Less than a minute later, the Blue answered to force overtime. Velmakin found the back of the net with 26 seconds left in regulation — the goal off assists from Raus and defenseman Julian Davis came with an extra attacker.

“We had to fight back and crawl back to force overtime,” Richardson said.

Neither team could break the deadlock in either overtime period, forcing a shootout. After seven straight misses, Seattle forward Adam Alfoldy scored to give the Totems the series-opening win and snap a 25-game losing streak.

“We got the point, but we should have got two points there — that was extremely disappointing,” Richardson said.

Last Saturday, the Blue fell behind early en route to a 7-4 defeat. Seattle scored three goals in the opening 14 minutes, and built a 6-1 lead early in the third period before Lake Tahoe was able to convert its scoring chances.

After the Totems scored three straight goals to start the game, Lake Tahoe got on the board late in the first period with its first of four power play goals. Velmakin scored off assists from Raus and forward Julius Bauermeister with 44 seconds left in the frame to make it 3-1.

“It was the same exact start as Friday night, we just didn’t get the first goal,” Richardson said. “We were all over them but couldn’t put the puck in the net.”

Seattle answered with three straight goals, and eventually took a 6-1 lead just more than three minutes into the third period. Lake Tahoe answered with three unanswered goals — from forward Igor Stibysh, forward Hunter Lovdokken and Davis — to make it a two-goal game, but that’s as close as it would get in the loss.

In Sunday’s series finale, a rough start led to a lopsided defeat for Lake Tahoe. The Blue lost to Seattle 10-4, allowing the Totems to complete the series sweep.

“We dug ourselves in a hole right away,” Richardson said.

Seattle scored four goals in the first 11 minutes of the game — including three on its first four shots — forcing Lake Tahoe to replace starting goaltender Michael Cowell. Defenseman Luke Erickson found the back of the net 28 seconds after the Totems’ fourth goal — but the Blue still trailed 4-1 at the first intermission.

The Blue allowed four unanswered goals in the first 13 minutes of the second period to fall further behind — by the time Stibysh scored with 5:04 left in the frame, Seattle had a commanding 8-2 lead. Forward Brandon Aab scored along with Erickson in the third period of the Blue’s six-goal defeat.

“We competed hard in that game, but the game of hockey is not a loyal game — it doesn’t matter how hard you work, you have to bear down a little bit and keep the puck out of the net,” Richardson said.

After the series, the Blue fell from sixth to seventh place in the division standings. Lake Tahoe (6-28-2-1) currently has 15 points, and is four points behind Seattle (9-29-1-0) for the last playoff spot.

“They swept us in their building and we swept them in ours — home ice played a factor,” Richardson said. “Our two teams are very similar to one another — the games were very evenly matched.”

The Blue have nine games remaining in the 2014-15 season, two more than the Totems. Both teams have three-game series against Butte left on the schedule — Lake Tahoe hosts Butte to end the season Feb. 27-March 1, while Seattle travels to play at the Cobras Feb. 20-22.

“We’re still sprinting against one another here,” Richardson said. “We’re still not out of the playoff race at all — we just need to focus on one game at a time and see what we can do.”

Off the ice, Lake Tahoe made a handful of moves before last Wednesday’s WSHL trade deadline — the Blue traded Raus and defenseman Matt Brzozowiec while acquiring forward Drake DeBerry from the Cheyenne Stampede. DeBerry, a 6-foot-4-inch forward from San Diego, Calif., had four goals and four assists in 15 games with Cheyenne.

The Blue also had its first college commitment of the season this week. On Thursday, the team announced defenseman Wesley Callens had committed to Dakota College at Bottineau, a NJCAA school in Bottineau, N.D.

Lake Tahoe returned to action Friday night at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena against Southern Oregon for its second-to-last home series of the season. The Blue continue their set against Spartans on Saturday at 7 p.m. — the series finale starts Sunday at 2:30 p.m.


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