Hilltoppers upset in hocky finale

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By Jean Picard

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

The Hilltopper hockey team had roared through the regular season with a 15-0-1 record, capturing convincing victories against every team in the state.

The postseason began with three more wins in the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League tournament, putting Los Alamos within a single victory of the league championship.

Then, it all came crashing down. Los Alamos goaltenders, who had been solid all season, struggled in back-to-back losses against a composite team of players from three Santa Fe high schools. The penalty-kill unit also struggled and the normally potent first line, which had averaged five goals a game, could only manage one in each contest.

The Hilltoppers fell to second place in the double elimination event.

Reeling from its first losses of the season, the team had five days to regroup before the state high school tournament.

Coach Scott Havemann was privately concerned about the “bad karma” that seemed to arise at the worst possible time.

The Hilltoppers dominated play against the Tigers from start to finish, taking 13 shots-on-goal to the Tigers’ three in the first period and 15-5 in the third. Those shot totals did not include Neel Gupta and Brad Picard hitting goalposts, nor the many Los Alamos shots that were blocked by Taos.

The difference in the game proved to be the Taos goalie Joe Jagers.

Jagers had played for the Tigers in the past, but had spent this season playing for a prep school in Connecticut.

Returning to Taos with one game remaining in the season, he petitioned the NMIIHL governing board to waive its eligibility rules and allow him to play.

With Jagers’ help, Taos captured the state title and a berth in USA Hockey's Rocky Mountain District high school tournament, to be held later this month.

After being thwarted by the Tigers’ defense for much of the first period, Nate Sharp put Los Alamos ahead 1-0 on a nice pass from Kory Archuleta.

Taos tied the game shortly when its top scorer, Magnus Nelson, deflected a pass from their defensive zone to center ice. He then corralled the puck, skated unchecked between two Hilltopper defensemen and scored on Hilltopper goalie Dylan Stupka.

The game remained tied 1-1 in the second and third periods as the Hilltoppers put considerable pressure on Jagers, but were unable to find the back of the net.

With less than 15 seconds to play in regulation and Los Alamos buzzing the Taos zone, Los Alamos defenseman Dylan Schreiber attempted a slap shot from the blue line. The shot ricocheted off Nelson’s shinguard and the loose puck squirted to center ice.

Nelson tracked down the puck for a clean breakaway. Taos’ second unassisted goal of the game – both coming off turnovers – proved to be the game winner.

The Hilltoppers finished with a 38-16 shots-on-goal advantage.

This ends the high school careers for 12 Los Alamos seniors. The class of 2009 left in its wake two state tournament runner-up finishes and nearly every individual hockey record.

Among the achievements, Zach Mang became the only player in school history to reach the 100 goal mark and team captain Brad Picard set school records for the most assists in a season and in a career.

Dylan Stupka notched the most victories for a goaltender.

The team's 13 game home winning streak, dating back to December 2007, will extend into next season.