The Columbia Eagles high school club ice hockey squad ended its season with a win last week to hoist the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association Varsity 1A championship trophy.
The MVCHA 1A playoffs included all teams not qualifying for the top six postseason spots.
Columbia defeated Triad in two straight games of a best-of-three 1A finals, both by scores of 6-2.
Columbia won game one with three goals from Jack Reuss last Tuesday night. Dalton Fitzgerald made 36 saves in net.
Thursday night in East Alton, it was more of the same.
The Eagles won by an identical score and with three more goals from Reuss. Rece Sanderson recorded three assists and Fitzgerald made 23 saves.
Reuss came on late to provide instant offense for the Eagles after sitting much of the season due to injury.
“Jack for sure was a huge add and was a big loss for us throughout the season,” Columbia head coach Alan Lalk said. “The comfortability that he and Rece Sanderson have together is unmatched. Matching Mikah Meinhardt on left wing with Rece at center and Jack on right shores up that line.”
Lalk said 31 of 38 of his team’s playoff goals and 54 of the 76 playoff points came from that line.
Reuss, Sanderson and Meinhardt will all return for the Eagles next season.
Lalk also praised the defensive play from pairs Ryan Foster/Andrew Donjon and Cam Ax/Jacob Hall in the playoffs.
“(They) played well throughout the playoffs to limit the opposition from maintaining control in our defensive zone,” Lalk assessed. “They were strong all season but really stepped up in the playoffs.”
Another key component to the playoff success, Lalk said, was the play of Fitzgerald.
“Dalton Fitzgerald was at his best in the playoffs in net – especially in the two games against Triad – as he turned away a lot of quality shots,” Lalk said. “He alone kept us alive in game one.”
Staying out of the penalty box in the playoffs was also important, according to the coach.
“(Penalties were) a major issue for us earlier in the season,” Lalk said. “We just couldn’t seem to stay out of our own way in the regular season, taking really bad penalties at bad times. But we were able to maintain our composure in the playoffs.”
When the Eagles did end up on the penalty kill in the postseason, Lalk said Mason Niedbalski, Anderson Judy, Drake Ramage and Sam Muren were the key components in killing off that time while even scoring a few shorthanded goals.
“Every player on our roster had an impact at some point in time during this run that allowed us to accomplish the 6-0 run through playoffs,” Lalk said. “The players wanted this accomplishment and went out and earned it.”
An icing on the cake, of sorts, came at the end of Columbia’s game two win as team captain Ryan Foster, a senior, closed out the scoring with the sixth goal of the night.
“In the end, I’m really proud of this group, as we faced a lot of adversity this season,” Lalk said. “To accomplish this will allow for us to grow for next season, as our roster turns from large group of freshmen and sophomores to a large group of juniors and seniors.”