Nikiski goalie Tyler Bethune stops a shot from Tri-Valley in the first period Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
With only nine players on their roster compared to 14 on Tri-Valley's roster, one would think the Nikiski hockey team would have trouble with the Viking Warriors late in the game due to fatigue.
That was not the case as Nikiski lost 5-0 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday to Tri-Valley in Greatland Hockey Conference play at the Jason Peterson Memorial Ice Rink. In both games, the Bulldogs fell in a 3-0 hole after the first period. Tri-Valley improved to 11-1 in the conference and 12-2 overall with the victories, while Nikiski remained in second place in the conference's Southern Division.
"It's pretty tough," Nikiski coach Irv Smith said of playing with nine on the roster. "We did show a lot of heart in trying to come back."
On Friday, Tri-Valley's Jesse Arbuckle scored just two minutes into the game. Later in the period, both Evan Venechuk and Kaz Cizmowski got loose for breakaway goals.
"I'm not very happy with the way we played, particularly in the first period," Smith said. "If we could have played better there, the outcome might have been a bit different."
Smith said goalie Tyler Bethune, who made 31 saves, played fine on Friday. He said it was two defensive breakdowns in the first period that gave Tri-Valley excellent scoring opportunities. Nikiski actually had nine shots in the first period to Tri-Valley's eight.
"We were a little slow in the first period," said Tri-Valley coach Nick Evans. "It took us a little while to get going. I actually thought we played much better in the second and third periods as a team.
"It was just a couple of great individual efforts that got us goals in the first period."
Smith also said his team picked it up in the second and third periods. He said the Bulldogs became more aggressive, finished their checks and cleaned up the defensive mistakes. Nikiski held Tri-Valley to a second-period goal by Parker Vacura and a third-period tally by Cizmowski.
Penalties were one factor that kept the Bulldogs from making a comeback. Nikiski was whistled for four penalties in the second period and three penalties in the third period. Bethune stood out at the beginning of the third period, when Tri-Valley had a 5-on-3 power play for two minutes and failed to score.
Smith said Nikiski's penalties were a result of a lack of depth.
"They weren't penalties from being too aggressive," he said. "They were penalties like tripping, which comes when you stop moving your feet. You stop moving your feet when you get tired."
Tri-Valley was able to keep its composure and pick up just two penalties. "I was happy with the low penalties," Evans said. "That's what cost us in our loss to Glennallen. We did a lot better job with that tonight."
Nikiski, despite getting 29 shots on goal, was never able to put sustained pressure on Tri-Valley netminder Dakota MacIven, who recorded his third shutout of the season.
"We didn't get too many second-chance opportunities," Smith said.
The coach said his squad has been working on taking shots from the point when there is traffic in front of the net, but Nikiski was unable to do that often Friday.
Saturday, Nikiski once again fell behind 3-0 after the first period. This time, the Bulldogs were able to battle back in the second period when Matt Thompson scored on an assist from Jordan Harrison and Beau Calderwood lit the lamp on assists from Zach Alkire and Matt Hanley. Those tallies cut the lead to 3-2 after two periods.
The Viking Warriors came right back at the start of the third period with short-handed goals at 12:41 and 12:01 to increase the lead to three.
"It could have gone either way after the second period, but those short-handed goals really hurt us," Smith said.
Hanley scored on an assist by Alkire to cut the gap to 5-3, but Tri-Valley added two goals before Harrison closed the scoring on an unassisted goal.
Bering Halloran had a hat trick for the Viking Warriors on Saturday, while Cizmowski added two goals.
Nikiski will play at Homer on Tuesday before hosting Hutchison on Friday and Saturday.
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