Wolf Pack scores upset win to face off CIF roller hockey playoffs

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There’s just something about playoff hockey that doesn’t compare to regular season play. Teams that sputter throughout the season somehow turn it on when it matters most.

Such was the case with the West Hills High School roller hockey team in Tuesday’s opening round of the CIF-Metro Conference Kiwanis Cup championship playoffs. The Wolf Pack skated to a rather mediocre 3-15 record during regular season play in the midst of a proverbial rebuilding year.

There’s just something about playoff hockey that doesn’t compare to regular season play. Teams that sputter throughout the season somehow turn it on when it matters most.

Such was the case with the West Hills High School roller hockey team in Tuesday’s opening round of the CIF-Metro Conference Kiwanis Cup championship playoffs. The Wolf Pack skated to a rather mediocre 3-15 record during regular season play in the midst of a proverbial rebuilding year.

It wasn’t too surprising when West Hills received the No. 9 seed in the 12-team playoff field. The Wolf Pack drew the No. 8-seeded Otay Ranch Mustangs in the opening round.

The Mustangs sported a rather spectacular 16-4 regular season record, but it was West Hills that packed the most punch in the game played at the Castle Park High School roller hockey rink by skating off the playing court with a dramatic 7-5 win.

“We started off the season with 11 players, and had six players for this game,” an obviously elated Wolf Pack coach Steve Baldwin said. “We’re thrilled to be in the playoffs and thrilled to win this playoff game.”  

West Hills had little time to celebrate one of its biggest wins of the season, however, as the Wolf Pack is scheduled to play top-seeded Rancho Bernardo (17-0) in Wednesday’s quarterfinals at the Escondido Sports Center. Face-off is 6:10 p.m.

The West Hills-Rancho Bernardo winner advances to Monday’s semifinals at the same site. The Kiwanis Cup championship game is scheduled March 4 in Escondido.

The Otay-West Hills contest was filled with penalties on both sides and included one player ejection (West Hills' Brock Nuckols). However, Otay Ranch played short-handed as well, with team co-leading scorer David Mendez out of the lineup due to academic ineligibility.

Mendez racked up 40 goals and 20 assists during regular season play. His absence proved costly for the Mustangs.

Otay Ranch started off strong, but could only put one goal past West Hills’ all-league goaltender Miguel San Martin before the Cade Frederick Show started.

Frederick, who has been playing ice hockey since he was 7, proved to be the dominant player on the court by scoring six of the seven West Hills goals.

Frederick scored just about every way possible in the game, including two short-handed goals and an empty net goal to seal the victory.

“I’m happy we won, it was fun,” the West Hills sophomore said. “It was exciting scoring the goals; it helped out the team.”

This is just Frederick’s second year playing varsity roller hockey, but he looked like a seasoned veteran out there, with his speed and stick-handling leading the Wolf Pack to the upset victory.

Nuckols left the game with 7:12 left in the second period. The Mustangs trailed 4-2 at this point in the contest and could have tied the game with a goal on each of two minor penalties assessed prior to the player ejection. Instead, Frederick scored a short-handed goal to put the Wolf Pack up 5-2.

Otay Ranch coach Adrian Rodriguez said that was the turning point in the game.

“We came out on fire and got the first goal but we didn’t take advantage of our power plays,” Rodriguez explained. “I told the team that if you don’t score on the power play that it will come back to hurt you later in the game.”

It did.

San Martin turned aside several good scoring chances but it was the defensive effort in front of him that equally buttressed the winning effort.

Frederick made it 6-3 before the Mustangs pulled their goaltender with 3:10 to play. Otay Ranch scored a pair of goals to trim the West Hills lead to 6-5 with 42 seconds left. The Mustangs continued to play with the extra attacker and Frederick eventually scored into the empty net with six seconds left to ice the game for the Wolf Pack.

“Every time we pulled the goalie, we played more aggressively,” Rodriguez noted. “I told the team how proud I was of them because they kept fighting back in the game.”

Frederick finished as West Hills’ leading scorer during the regular season with 39 goals and eight assists for 47 points. Next in line was Nuckols with six goals and four assists for 10 points.

Five of Frederick’s six goals in Tuesday’s playoff game were unassisted.

Nuckols scored one goal before he left the game while teammate Wes Konold was credited with one assist.

The Wolf Pack (3-6 in league play) finished third in the regular season Central League standings behind league champion Cathedral Catholic (7-0 in league play, 11-5 overall) and league runner-up St. Augustine (6-3 in league play, 8-12 overall).

St. Augustine, seeded seventh, defeated 10th-seeded La Jolla Country Day, 7-4, in Monday’s opening-round game at the Escondido Sports Center.

Cathedral Catholic received the No. 2 seed in this year’s playoff field and will play St. Augustine in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

West Hills garnered two players on the all-league second team: Frederick and San Martin.

Cathedral Catholic’s Drew Jones was named the 2014-15 Central League Player of the Year.

“We didn’t have the travel team ice hockey players this season like we did in past seasons, so we were kind of dry in that department unlike a lot of the North County teams,” Baldwin assessed. “I think we’ll be stronger in that area next year.”

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