Utah Wins First PAC-8 Championship
Last year, the Utah Skatin’ Utes took the number two seed into Seattle in the PAC-8 Championships in their first year in the conference. After a thrilling OT victory over USC in the semifinals, the Utes came up just short losing to defending champ Washington 2-0 in the championship game.
This year, redemption was on the mind of Utah and that’s exactly what they got as the Utes rode three straight wins to claim their first PAC-8 Championship in club history at this year’s PAC-8 Championships in Anaheim, CA.
With a new format, the tournament was split into two pools with the winners of each pool playing in the title game. As the number one seed in the tourney, the Utes drew the SoCal duo in USC and UCLA in Pool A while Oregon, Washington, and Cal were placed in the other pool.
On Friday, the Utes opened up pool play against fourth seeded UCLA. After a close first period saw the score tied at 1-1 going into the second, the Utes poured it on as five different Utes lit the lamp to take a 6-2 lead going into the third period. Utah continued their dominant play in the third, scoring three times in the first five minutes including Chase McDonald’s hat trick goal that made it 9-2 with 15 minutes left. Ben Seastrand added another late as Utah opened up the tournament with an impressive 10-2 victory over the Bruins. Utah goaltender Pete Gibb was solid in net, stopping 21 of 23 shots for his 17th win of the season. The Ute offense dominated the game, outshooting the Bruins 54-23 with 10 different Utes tallying a point.
With USC defeating UCLA on Friday night, Saturday’s tilt between Utah and USC would decide who would represent Pool A in the title game. In the previous matchup between these two teams, USC scored early three times and rode the stellar play of goaltender Eric Chiccone with his 63 saves to upset the Utes 3-2 in Salt Lake City. This time, the venue was different but the first two periods went almost exactly the same, with USC leading the Utes 3-1 going to the third period.
With the Utes trailing by two, the Utes found the back of the net at the 12:40 mark as Mike Monument fired one from the point to beat Chiccone and cut USC’s lead to 3-2. The Utes kept putting shots on the Trojan tender until Monument put in the rebound off Chris York’s wrap around attempt to tie the game with 7:18 left in the game. The score would remain tied as the buzzer sounded and the winner would be decided in overtime.
In the extra frame, the Utes wasted no time attacking the net while on a 4 on 3 power play, as Chase McDonald made a diving stab at a loose puck in the crease to score his fourth goal of the weekend to defeat the Trojans and send the Utes to their second straight PAC-8 title game. The Utes again outshot the Trojans by a whopping 61-26 as tender Pete Gibb had 23 saves on 26 shots. Of note, the Utes defeated the Trojans last year in the PAC-8’s by the same score when Beau Bertagnolli beat Chiccone for the winner with 57 seconds left in overtime.
So with Utah’s win the Utes would meet the winner of Pool B, which came down to Saturday’s game against Oregon and Washington. In a hard fought game throughout, the Oregon Ducks were able to hold off the back to back defending champs to win the game and Pool B by a score of 4-3.
That set up Sunday’s Championship game as the top two teams in the conference battled it out for the title. After a scoreless first period that saw almost even shot totals, the Ducks struck first when Tyler Halverson beat Gibb on the power play to give Oregon a 1-0 lead. The Utes were able to answer just five minutes later as Monument tallied another goal off of a tip in front of goaltender Danny Cockriel to even the score at 1-1 after two periods.
In the deciding third period, Utah tallied another goal as Adam scored from the point to give the Utes their first lead of the night 2-1. Just 39 seconds later Patrick Thornton found a loose puck in front of the net to tie the game at 2-2. The score remained knotted at two until the final minutes, when Shaymus Bertagnolli threw a puck toward Cockriel from behind the goal and it banked off the tender and in to give the Utes a 3-2 lead with 2:50 to play. Bertagnolli would add an empty net goal with 34 seconds left to play to give the Utes their first PAC-8 Championship.
As in every game this weekend, the Utes outshot the Ducks 50-26 as the Ducks were able to hang tough throughout the game despite being outshot. Pete Gibb had 24 saves on 26 shots and picked up his 19th win of the year. Utah’s Mike Monument was named tournament MVP, scoring three goals and two assists in the tournament.
The win gives Utah its first conference title in just its second year since joining the PAC-8. The win also marks the first time since 2008 that a team other than the host has won the conference tournament (Oregon won the title at Washington State).