Hockey: LA wins league state championship

-A A +A
By Dann Alison

The Los Alamos Hilltopper hockey team bounced back from an early round loss this weekend to capture the state pure team title Sunday.

Los Alamos toppled the Taos Tigers in the pure team tournament finale, the team that knocked it into the elimination bracket, by a final of 4-1.

Friday night, the Hilltoppers thumped the Eldorado Eagles, 5-1, outshooting them 33-5.  

Goals in that game were scored by Cameron Ranken, Neel Gupta, Chase Havemann, Graham Delano and Niko Menenakis. Gupta scored the game winner at 10:23 of the second period.

Gupta would also be involved in a game-turning play in Los Alamos’ next contest, that coming against Taos.

Taos advanced to the second round with a close victory over the La Cueva Bears, leading to Saturday morning’s match-up.

In Saturday morning’s contest, the Hilltoppers were in control of the action despite no scores being tallied in first period.

But early in the second period, a Tiger defenseman was injured by what appeared to be a routine check from Gupta in the corner. Paramedics were called and the game was delayed for nearly 45 minutes while he was examined and eventually taken to the hospital for further evaluation.

On the play, Gupta was given a 5-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, a penalty that would eliminate him from the remainder of the game and all of the next.  

When play resumed, the Hilltoppers were not the same.

The Tigers scored two power-play goals during the 5-minute man advantage and ended the period leading 2-0. The Hilltoppers spent much of the remainder of the second period killing penalties and only managed one shot on goal for the period while being shelled by the Tigers.

The Hilltoppers regained their composure in the third period and were able to claw back to a tie on goals scored by Raichur and Havemann to force an extra period. However, the Hilltoppers would lose on a breakaway goal early in the overtime period, which sent them into the elimination bracket and added one game on their way to the tournament final.   

Los Alamos defeated La Cueva in the loser’s bracket late Saturday night to earn a rematch against Taos Sunday. Despite being without Gupta for that game, Los Alamos earned a 4-2 victory.

In that game, Oliver Funsten scored a pair of goals, including the game winner, rebounding a slap-shot from Christopher Owens.

Raichur and Andre Appert both scored goals for Los Alamos in that game as well.

The late Saturday win gave the Hilltoppers a chance at redemption Sunday against Taos, although they would need two straight victories to earn the state title — the Tigers hadn’t lost in the tournament heading into the final.

Sunday morning, the Hilltoppers came out strong, despite again going scoreless in the first period.

Funsten broke the scoring open in the second period on an excellent passing combination from Havemann and Gupta, putting Los Alamos up 1-0.

Taos would score with under a minute left in the period to tie the game, but Ranken scored on a clear breakaway just 20 seconds later with what would prove the game-winner.

Havemann would add a late third period insurance goal.

For the game, he Hilltoppers outshot the Tigers 30-6.  

The finale was played only 30 minutes after the conclusion of Sunday’s opener. There was discussion regarding Taos refusing to play in protest of the short rest period between contests. However, the game went as scheduled.

Once again, the Hilltoppers dominated as the Tigers were skating only seven players.

The play was predominately in the Tigers’ end of the ice, but the Hilltoppers played a disciplined, puck-controlling offense rather than firing away at the Taos goal.

Gupta scored the first goal on a nice pass from Kyle Barich-Mooday, while Graham Delano scored what would be the game winner at 2:25 of the first period on a breakaway.

Los Alamos earned the state title with its 4-1 win in the tournament finale.

Barich-Mooday scored an insurance goal — assisted by Mariana Menakis and Ranken — in the second, while Havemann — assisted by Gupta — salted the game away late in the third and etched the title in stone with a 4-1 win.  

The Tigers were outshot in the final, 33-16.

For the tournament, Los Alamos outshot its opposition 151-55. Goaltender Devin Grider finished with a 0.854 save percentage in Los Alamos’ five tournament games.