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Flyers to face Phoenix

Local hockey team advances to division finals after recording first playoff win

Posted: March 2, 2009 1:02 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Since their first season in 2001-2002, the Western States Hockey League franchise in Valencia has not advanced past the first round of the Western Division playoffs.

That all changed on Sunday, when the Valencia Flyers took the third and deciding game of their opening-round series with the San Diego Gulls, 5-3.

The Flyers play in the Western Division of the WSHL, a Tier III Junior A hockey league. The Western Division features franchises in Valencia, San Diego, Lakewood, Roseville and Phoenix. It is arguably the highest level of amateur hockey in the region.

The WSHL also has a mid-west division, with franchises in El Paso, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, Tulsa and Colorado.

This year, the Flyers finished in second place in the Western Division, earning them their first home playoff series in team history.

The Flyers head to Phoenix to face the top-seeded Polar Bears for a best of three series beginning Friday. Phoenix completed a sweep of the fourth-seeded So Cal Bombers with a 5-1 victory on Saturday.

The Polar Bears are a perennial power in the league and have won five league championships in the past seven seasons, Phoenix has also won the Western Division for seven consecutive years.

“Our guys are looking forward to (Phoenix),” said first-year Flyers head coach Chris Hartley. “It doesn’t matter if we play here or there. If we show up like we did today we’ll be fine.”

Flyers captain Andrew Monesi agrees.

“We want to be the team that knocks them out,” Monesi said. “We need to take it to them.”

Game three on Sunday was dominated by Flyers forward Brian Voogt, who had three goals in the game, capped by an empty-net goal with six seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Voogt, who was battling the flu and a high fever, was compelled by the urgency of potentially playing in his last game.

“This is my last season, so I really didn’t want to lose,” Voogt said. “I really needed to step up.”

Voogt led the Flyers with 35 goals and 68 points this season and was the division’s second leading goal scorer. Although he struggled scoring in the first two games, Hartley was still confident in his player.

“He got frustrated in the first two games,” Hartley said. “I told him to keep going, the next one will go in. Today was a reward for not giving up.”

The Flyers jumped out to a early two-goal lead in game three, highlighted by an impressive goal by Voogt with 4:28 remaining in the first period.

Voogt picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and promptly skated around the only remaining defender between himself and the goaltender. Once past the Gull defense, Voogt cut across the front of the net and squeezed the puck past San Diego goaltender Alex Corbin’s left leg pad.

Flyer goaltender Noble Tucker shut out the Gulls until the 10:56 mark of the second period, when San Diego forward Brendon Dyok’s wrist shot dribbled through Tucker’s legs to pull San Diego within one.

“Noble has been on fire this series,” Hartley said. “It is huge to have a goalie back up his guys when they make mistakes.”

Tucker faced a barrage of San Diego shots in game three, making 42 saves. Tucker also held the Gulls to only one goal in the Flyers’ 3-1 game-two victory, making 27 saves.

Valencia added another goal from Voogt and a goal from forward Brandon Butler with 44 seconds remaining in the second to take a 4-1 lead into the break.

Losing their second leading scorer, forward Kyle Manlow, midway through the second period, when he was ejected for fighting after the whistle, San Diego did all they could to come back in the third period.

The Gulls received a powerplay goal from defenseman Cassidy April and a goal from forward Rory Wilkowich with 11:00 remaining to cut the lead to 4-3.

“We were a little frustrated,” Monesi said. “We were on the penalty kill all game. Once we were at (even strength) we knew we had to dig deep.”

The Gulls had more opportunities in the third including a shot from the blue line that rang off the post with 10:05 remaining. But San Diego could not capitalize, and in desperation, stuggled to get the puck deep into Valencia’s zone in the final minutes.

Valencia battled back after losing the opening game of the series on Friday, 8-5. The score was tied at 3-3 at the second period break, but after five Gull goals in the third, the Flyers faced elimination for the rest of the series.

“We put ourselves in that situation,” Hartley said. “Our backs were against the wall.”

The series also featured a staggering 225 penalty minutes between the two teams, including two game misconducts for players making “obscene gestures.”

“We have a ton of heart and intensity,” Hartley said. “We got carried away this weekend. I don’t like to reel them in too much, but it is something that needs to be addressed.”

Monesi wants to eliminate the Flyers’ penalty problems before their next series.

“It was hard to keep our emotions in check,” Monesi said. “We need to smarten up. We’re not going to beat Phoenix if we’re on the penalty kill this much.”

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