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Hockey: LA to face Rio Rancho in state final

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By Mike Cote

They ended with identical records and tied one another last weekend.Now, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers and Rio Rancho Rams will meet for the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League championship.The championship game will be held Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center. The puck is scheduled to drop at 2:30 p.m.Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers will be playing for their first state championship cup since 2001 and head coach Craig Wehner said the team is primed for a title.“It was a very successful season,” Wehner said. “The kids delivered…they really performed well and they have a lot going for them.”Los Alamos and Rio Rancho met at the Year End Tournament, played last weekend in Taos, and ended up deadlocked, 3-3.Wehner said there was very little on the line in that final game of the tournament. Both teams had qualified for the state title game prior to the tournament finale and about the only thing that game settled was who was going to wear what color jersey Saturday.Los Alamos (17-6-1) won its other two contests in the Year End Tournament, topping Taos 4-1 and La Cueva 3-0 before the deadlock with Rio Rancho.The Hilltoppers and the Rams had met four times this winter prior to Sunday’s game, twice in the regular season and twice in showcase games.In those, the Hilltoppers have won three and tied the other. Los Alamos beat Rio Rancho during NMIIHL play 7-3 Jan. 25 and 7-2 Feb. 3. Both games were played in Rio Rancho.Los Alamos was supposed to host Rio Rancho in a NMIIHL game Dec. 1, but that game was postponed and never made up.In a showcase game at Los Alamos Dec. 15, the Hilltoppers won 6-4.The Hilltoppers haven’t lost a game against a New Mexico opponent since Dec. 21, that coming at the hands of Santa Fe, a 4-2 defeat at the Genoveva Chavez Center. Since then, the Hilltoppers have reeled off 10 straight NMIIHL wins.At last weekend’s tournament, Los Alamos had more solid offensive showings, something that’s carried them throughout the season.Los Alamos jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Taos, the team’s friendly rival, before the Ice Tigers scored a meaningless second period goal. Los Alamos outshot La Cueva 37-2 in that contest, which iced its spot in the state title game.In all, six Hilltoppers tallied goals at the Year End Tournament. John Baca had four goals in the three Hilltopper games and Zach Mang scored a pair of goals. Also getting into the scoring column were Mariana Meneakis, Ben Havemann, Brad Picard and Nick White.Wehner said that should Los Alamos continue its execution the way it has done all year, things should go just fine on Saturday.“Right now, I think we’re peaking,” he said. “We played last year and started peaking about three weeks before we should’ve. We’ve got our system going good. It’s worked as we’ve expected it.”Physically, Rio Rancho has a size advantage over Los Alamos, but Wehner said his biggest kids are in the same ballpark as Rio Rancho’s biggest players. Wehner also said his team’s speed makes up for any size disadvantage the Hilltoppers might be facing.Los Alamos is expecting about 100 of its fans at the Santa Ana Star Center. Rio Rancho, which is playing closer to home, is expecting anywhere from 300-500 fans to show up.Saturday’s game will follow the composite team championship.