Hockey: LA sweeps three weekend games

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By Dann Alison

The Los Alamos Hilltopper hockey team improved to 6-2 as it earned three victories this past weekend.  

Los Alamos downed St Pius X, Taos and La Cueva to earn three-game hat-trick. It was aided in that cause by Marina Meneakis, who scored a natural hat trick Saturday. A hat trick by a female player in state high school league play has only been done once before.

Friday night’s game against the St. Pius Sartans was dedicated to LAHS teacher Dave Thurston’s fight against leukemia. The Hilltoppers played before a good crowd at Los Alamos County Ice Rink following the evening benefit dinner for Thurston. In all, $332 for Thurston’s fund was collected during the game.

The game was dominated by the Hilltopper defense but marred by eight Hilltopper penalties.

Oliver Funsten lit the lamp once within the first minute of the first period, but Los Alamos skated shorthanded for nearly six minutes. This stifled much of the first period offense, but the defense responded well to the pressure.

The Hilltoppers scored three more goals — by Cameron Rankin, Funsten and Neel Gupta — in the second period on some nice odd-man rushes and combination plays despite the fact they were shorthanded for half of the period on three penalties.

The Hilltoppers scored two more goals by Kyle Mooday and Patrick Raichur — in the third period, capping the scoring at 6-0.  Penalties were limited to only four minutes in the third.  

Goalies Devin Grider (8 saves) and Justin Trujillo (2 saves) both saw time between the pipes for Los Alamos, earning a shutout with solid team defense playing in front of them.

Saturday night the Hilltoppers traveled to face the winless Taos Tigers, who have improved considerably since the teams’ last meeting in Los Alamos Nov. 20. However, Los Alamos was still too much for Taos, winning 9-4 on the road.

The Tigers skated with authority on their home ice, but Los Alamos responded in spades to maintain control of the game.

In sharp contrast to their outing the previous night, the Hilltoppers served only four penalty minutes the entire game.

Los Alamos was actually outshot 40-33 against Taos, but Los Alamos goalie Devin Grider was up to the task, collecting 36 saves.

Los Alamos scored three first period goals, provided by Raichur, Meneakis and Chase Havemann to grab an early 3-1 lead.

The second period opened with a quick Taos goal on a turnover in the Hilltopper zone to tighten the gap,  but two more goals by Meneakis, coming just 2:01 apart, gave her the first hat trick of her career to break the game open.

Raichur also scored a goal late in the period to give Los Alamos a 6-2 edge heading into the third frame.

The checking in the second period increased dramatically as the frustration mounted for the Tigers and peaked with the collision of big men Hank Harter of Taos and Matt Xu of Los Alamos near the Los Alamos blue line. Coach Steve Schreiber described it as a “law-of-tonage” hit. Xu broke up the play, but both immediately went to their benches for an extended period.

A pair of Gupta goals and another by Oliver Funsten accentuated the third period. Taos was able to notch two goals late in the period, but Los Alamos retained the North Star trophy, which is held by the winner of each meeting between these two rivals.

Sunday, the Hilltoppers completed the three-win weekend sweep by shutting out the La Cueva Bears in Albuquerque 3-0. The Hilltoppers played strong defensively and overcame some interesting officiating to completely squelch the Bears’ offense.

A pair of goals in the first period, by Gupta and Meneakis and one in the third by Mooday completed the game scoring. The bulk of Sunday’s game was played in the Bear’s end of the ice.

The Bears managed only nine shots-on-goal, but most of those were of low quality due to the strong defensive play in front of the goal. The defense made Grider’s night easier than what he faced Saturday.

Los Alamos has now won four games in a row and plays again at 7 p.m. Friday when it hosts the Rio Ranch Rams.

Los Alamos beat Rio Rancho 3-2 in the teams’ first meeting Dec. 5.

Friday’s game will be broadcast live on KRSN AM 1490.