The Nikiski hockey team has much to celebrate. At the Greatland Hockey Tournament, the Bulldogs will look for even more to celebrate.
Nikiski opens play at the Brett Memorial Ice Rink in Wasilla with a first-round game against Kenny Lake at 2 p.m. today.
The Bulldogs come into the tournament with a No. 4 seed, while the Hawks are seeded fifth.
"A No. 4 seed. Even that is quite a feat for around here," first-year Nikiski coach Al Anderson said.
The Bulldogs got that fourth seed by setting a school record with nine overall victories this year.
"The biggest thing this year is that they've been willing to accept discipline and focus," Anderson said of his squad. "Combine that with the little bit of tooling (assistant coach) Beynon Williams did with technique, and it's magic time.
"The nine wins are something we're quite proud of."
The Bulldogs would like to add to their win total at the tournament. They split against Kenny Lake this year, losing 2-1 on the road in early December and winning 6-4 at home in early January.
The Hawks are known for teams with small numbers of very skilled skaters.
The Bulldogs have had their depth weakened by injury, so they won't mind opening up against a side without depth.
For Nikiski, Brad Harrison is out with a knee injury, Paul Kendall is out with a broken arm, Billy Anderson is out with a broken collarbone and Robert Zinck is out with a broken collarbone.
The Bulldogs also will be relying on backup goalies Jonathan Parnell and John Schwenke, who led the team to a big victory over Skyview earlier this year.
The good news is the Bulldogs recently got Rueben Floyd and Jabin Flensburg back from injury.
Nikiski has been dealing with injuries all year, so the players are prepared to take some longer shifts.
The core of the team comes from seniors Josh Winters and Josh Pepper, but Anderson has nine juniors and several more underclassmen to complement his seniors.
"We're headed up there to play hard, we're not going just to have a good time," Anderson said. "We're focusing on winning games. We don't want to change our attitude.
"We're going up a class act, and we want to stay a class act."
Should the Bulldogs win, they would play Houston, which has a first-round bye. The top-seeded Hawks have been dominant this season, posting a 12-0 record in the Greatland Hockey Conference and outscoring opponents 93-13. Houston has defeated Nikiski by scores of 10-0 and 9-0 this year.
If the Bulldogs lose to Kenny Lake, they will have a bye to Saturday's fourth-place game.
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