Western men’s hockey is headed to the National Association of Intercollegiate Hockey Championship Tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., after winning the Northwest Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament in Cheney, Wash., on March 3.
The team opened the NWCHC Tournament on Saturday, March 2, against the University of Idaho with a 9-0 victory.
“[The game against Idaho] started out a lot more physical and fast-paced than we expected,” said sophomore Kyle Neal. “Once we got a few in the net, we started to take control of the game.”
The following day, March 3, Western defeated Eastern Washington University 4-0 in the NWCHC championship game, going up 3-0 in the first period and netting the last goal in the third period.
“We expected an easier game, but Eastern showed up and played really well,” Neal said. “After [the first period] it was really neck-and-neck.”
Both games were shutouts for senior goaltender Tyler Zetting, bringing him to a total of five for the season.
Zetting didn’t see many shots in the tournament, only having to make about 20 saves per game. He was on his game all weekend, said Head Coach John Dougan.
“Games where you don’t get a lot of shots are tougher on goalies because you get cold just standing and watching,” Dougan said. “He made a couple of really good saves after sitting cold. He concentrated well throughout both games.”
Zetting credited the defenders as being the real stars of the tournament.
“It was just good coaching and practicing for this weekend and we just executed it perfectly,” he said.
Zetting also pointed to the team effort as a key, as almost every player scored a goal and no player scored more than two goals.
“It’s really cool to see how the team came together for the biggest game so far,” he said.
Sunday’s game was the team’s 20th win of the season, and ninth-straight win. The team’s last loss was on Nov. 7. This season the team brought on a lot of rookie players. After opening the season with two losses, the team got its act together, Zetting said.
“We have great chemistry,” Zetting said, “[This is] probably the best team at Western I’ve played on.”
Western’s next challenge will be the NAIH Championships in Buffalo, N.Y., beginning on March 14.
“The conference tournament was nice to get us ready to play at nationals in that high-pressure setting,” Neal said.
The team will spend the next two weeks preparing for the tournament, keeping its intensity high and carrying the defensive play from this weekend over to the next games. Western hopes to end the season on a high note and bring home a national title.
“The teams are going to be a lot better [at the NAIH Tournament],” Zetting said. “We want to compete well and win that championship.”