Utah wins Pac-8 hockey championship; tournament makes debut at SLT Ice Arena | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Utah wins Pac-8 hockey championship; tournament makes debut at SLT Ice Arena

Anthony Gentile
The Utah Skatin’ Utes celebrate after winning the Pac-8 Championship Sunday at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena. Utah beat Oregon 5-1 for its second title in three seasons.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The Pac-8 Championship made its debut at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena last weekend, starting a new tradition by hosting the tournament at a neutral site. Top-seeded Utah beat third-seeded Oregon 5-1 in the championship game Sunday, capping the three-day tourney by winning its second conference title in three seasons.

“Like any championship, it was just hard work, discipline and doing the little things right — it’s pretty simple,” Utah forward Chase McDonald said. “We controlled it for the most part.”

The Skatin’ Utes scored the first four goals of a fast, physical championship game en route to a 5-1 win over Oregon. Forward Josh Dangel opened the scoring for Utah (25-12-2) midway through the first period with a power play goal — forward Shaymus Bertagnolli redirected a shot with 5:21 left in the frame to make it 2-0.

“Our team came ready to play today — we knew this was a big game,” Skatin’ Utes goaltender Chris Komma said. “The key was going hard, not letting up and to just keep pushing on them.”

“We’re hoping to grow a tradition.”A.J BoldanPac-8 Conference executive director

Utah maintained that two-goal advantage after a scoreless second period, and added a pair of third-period goals with a man advantage to make it 4-0 — the second came with 7:17 to play and led to a scrum between both teams near the Ducks’ goal. Oregon (14-11) got on the board 13 seconds after the ensuing face-off on a breakaway goal from center Alex Sulitzer.

The Skatin’ Utes punctuated their victory when Dangel struck on the power play with 2:58 to play. Utah ended their fourth straight championship appearance with a second conference crown — prior to 2012, it hadn’t appeared in the title game.

“Our team has come a long way in the last four or five years — we haven’t always been a contender,” said McDonald, the Skatin’ Utes team captain. “For the older guys, it’s huge to have this opportunity — it feels great to come out and make it happen.”

The six-team Pac-8 tournament started on Friday and also featured USC, Washington, UCLA and California. These big-name schools from the West play in American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division II, the second of three tiers of club hockey nationwide.

“It’s a little more of a blue-collar league — it’s a league where guys work hard and battle hard, and there are a lot of hits,” McDonald said. “That’s what makes it so fun.”

Prior to South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena hosting the Pac-8 championships, the tournament was held at campus sites since the conference’s inception in 1996. The Pac-8 plans to return to South Lake Tahoe next season, using the South Shore to showcase some of the top collegiate hockey in the West.

“The tournament has been fantastic and the community has been great — we’re planning on coming back next year,” said A.J. Boldan, Pac-8 executive director and Utah assistant coach. “We’re hoping to grow a tradition — we came out here and it has worked out well.”

Pac-8 teams that qualify will advance to the ACHA Division II West Regionals held Feb. 28 and March 1 in Tempe, Ariz. The ACHA National Championship tournament will be held March 20-24 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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