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Lake Tahoe Blue swept by division champs Idaho, needs sweep to make postseason

Anthony Gentile
agentile@tahoedailytribune.com
Lake Tahoe forward Vladislav Polyashov had a goal in the Blue’s three-game series against Idaho last weekend. The Blue conclude the regular season at SLT Ice Arena with a three-game series beginning Friday night.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

McCALL, Idaho — The Lake Tahoe Blue hockey club faced WSHL Northwest Division champion Idaho on the road last weekend — and the Jr. Steelheads showed the quality of a national title contender. The Blue were swept by Idaho in a three-game series at McCall Ice Center, and as a result need to sweep their last series of the regular season to make the playoffs.

“We have no excuses for anything and it’s going to come down to this weekend,” Blue head coach Mike Richardson said.

In the series opener last Friday, Lake Tahoe fell behind quickly en route to a 7-1 loss. Idaho scored three unanswered goals to start the game in the first period — including one 34 seconds after the opening faceoff.

“We gave them the first goal really early, and it zapped a lot of momentum from us,” Richardson said.

Vladislav Polyashov got the Blue on the board in the last minute of the first period, scoring off assists from Nikita Velmakin and Kristers Seps to make it 3-1. Lake Tahoe trailed 4-1 after the second period — Idaho scored three times in the third to pull away for the victory.

“Trying to crawl back against a team like that is very hard to do, so when we were able to get that goal it gave us some life,” Richardson said. “We were able to get a little bit of juice going, but we were never able to push them at all.”

In Saturday’s game, Lake Tahoe matched the Jr. Steeleheads early before falling by a 7-1 margin. After the Blue tied the game 1-1 early in the second period, Idaho answered with six unanswered goals to win going away.

“We were pushing and we were getting chances,” Richardson said. “We had a few two-on-ones, we had a few breakaways, and we just couldn’t capitalize on them.”

Lake Tahoe trailed 1-0 at the first intermission, and tied the game less than five minutes into the second period when Drake DeBerry found the back of the net. DeBerry’s first goal with the Blue came off assists from Brandon Aab and Hunter Lovdokken.

Idaho reclaimed the lead three minutes later, and took control of the game with three goals in the last six minutes of the second period. The Jr. Steeleheads scored twice more in the third period in the six-goal win.

In Sunday’s series finale, Lake Tahoe couldn’t find the goal in a 5-0 defeat. After a scoreless first period, Idaho scored four goals in the second period to build a commanding lead and roll to the sweep.

“We had our chances — but with a team like Idaho, chances are one thing and bearing down is another,” Richardson said. “We just couldn’t score.”

Idaho has 41 wins in 44 games this season, and currently leads the league in points. Richardson said he considers the Jr. Steelheads favorites for the WSHL championship along with Midwest Division leader El Paso, Western Division leader Fresno and Missoula, who is currently tied for second in the Northwest Division.

“We have a ton of respect for that organization and that team,” Richardson said. “They’ve taken the time to do it right and that’s the team everyone should want to be like.”

The Jr. Steelheads have one of the league’s most complete teams, and showed that against Lake Tahoe. Eleven different players scored for Idaho in the three-game series, including distinct goal-scorers on all seven goals in the opener.

“In their lineup, every line can do a variety of things — every single night, their four lines and six defenseman are able to do it all,” Richardson said. “They’re so dynamic and play very aggressive with relentless pressure.”

With one series left in the regular season, Lake Tahoe (7-33-2-1) currently sits in seventh in the division standings with 17 points. The Blue trail Seattle (10-32-1-1) by five points for the division’s last playoff spot, and need a sweep in their last series coupled with two Seattle losses to make the postseason.

“This week is pretty much a rest week — we’re going to make sure we have all of our juice on Friday night,” Richardson said. “Everyone in our room knows it’s a must-sweep weekend — the nice thing is we have the experience, so we know we can do it.”

Lake Tahoe begins its last series of the regular season Friday night, when it hosts Butte at SLT Ice Arena. Friday and Saturday’s games start at 7:30 p.m. — the puck drops at 2 p.m. for Sunday’s regular season finale.

“Our biggest thing right now is making sure that when the puck drops on Friday, we give it our all Friday night,” Richardson said. “That’s the main focus, and then we’ll focus on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s going to be a good weekend — we’re excited and ready to go.”


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