Western Washington University hockey team is moving on to defend its national championship after winning all three of its conference tournament games.
After finishing the regular season an undefeated 15-0, the University of Idaho almost upended Western, but a Billy Holbrook goal late in the third period lifted the Vikings to a 1-0 victory on Friday, Feb. 21, at the Bellingham Sportsplex.
The Vikings defeated the Vandals 7-2 and 8-1 in February, it was a shock to see the Vandals were able to keep it close.
“It was a bit surprising,” left wing Tristan van der Heyden said. “But the whole game our attitude was to get the puck in and work, work, work. We were just happy to play a good team with some skill.”
Before the game-deciding goal, the game’s intensity was high — both teams refusing to roll over. The second period even featured a fight after center Billy Holbrook got checked from behind.
“The refs just weren’t making good calls,” van der Heyden said. “It was tough to get a break and when Billy got a pretty nasty hit from behind, [right wing] Zach Midgarden wouldn’t stand for it. It was just self-policing.”
The second game was much easier than the first, as the Vikings rolled through Portland State University 6-1 on Saturday, Feb. 22.
It was the Vikings from the start, as they scored three in three in the first. The second period was split 1-1, leaving the Vikings with a three-goal lead going into the final period.
Western put in two more to finish the game off in the third.
With Idaho beating Portland State 2-1 in the early game on Saturday, the Vikings were set to face off with the Vandals again. However, due to inclement weather, Idaho was forced to forfeit the game and make the trip back to Moscow, Idaho.
The forfeit meant Western won its conference and will go to the national championship tournament on Wednesday, March 12, in Newark, Ohio, with a chance to defend the 2013 trophy they earned in Buffalo, N.Y. last year.
Just because they made it, doesn’t mean the work stops for the Vikings, van der Heyden said.
“We have a little ways to go,” van der Heyden said. “There won’t be any time wasted the next couple weeks. We will be practicing until we got on the plane.”