BREMERTON — The music was blaring from the West Sound Warriors locker room late Saturday night and into the early morning hours of Sunday at the Bremerton Ice Center.
Certainly, no one could blame the players and their fans for a little longer celebration after West Sound won its first Western States Hockey League playoff series, a 7-3 victory over the Seattle Totems, in its first season in the WSHL.
Some of the Warriors’ players, still wearing pads and skates, took pictures with fans, laughing and relaxed after sweeping the series 2-0.
Warriors goaltender Brian Eisele, a Schaumburg, Illinois, native, was stellar in the net. Eisele made several stops on breakaway plays by Seattle, including several mid-air snags of the puck that drew gasps from the fans on both sides.
Eisele, who returned to the ice on Wednesday after suffering a concussion at the end of the regular season, said all he could think about was making the next play and not getting too comfortable with the lead.
“The team played really great in front of me, so that made it easier,” he said. “They were breaking up passes and knocking away all the rebounds.
“I was just trying to make the next save.”
A season that began last September saw the Warriors elevate themselves to second place in the Northwest Division by January only to plummet after an 11-game losing skid left them as the fourth seed into the playoffs.
Now West Sound has the task of facing No. 1 seed Idaho beginning with Friday’s 7 p.m. start in Idaho Falls at the Manchester Ice Centre.
Warriors coach Ty Smith said his team is up to the challenge.
“Anything can happen,” Smith said, “look at the March Madness (NCAA basketball) and all that craziness. All it takes is a couple plays and a couple guys to be locked in, and good things can happen, When the moment comes up, you have to be ready for it.”
That was the case Saturday night.
Harri Koll, West Sound’s leading scorer, gave the Warriors a lead they never relinquished.
Koll’s goal came just two minutes into the first period. Midway through the period, West Sound’s defense proved it wasn’t going to crumble as the Warriors successfully killed a two-minute, two-man advantage by Seattle. Moments later, Ty-Andrew Traynor scored on a power-play to give West Sound a 2-0 lead.
Koll then added a hard slapshot for his second goal and a 3-0 Warriors lead.
Dmitri Munirov got into the action with his goal with less than a minute remaining as the West Sound led 4-0 after the first period.
Smith said the gameplan was to come out quickly and take control of the game.
“We wanted to set the tone and set the pace of the game to our liking, and I think we accomplished that,” he said.
The Warriors kept it going in the second period.
Traynor’s second goal of the game came early in the second for a 5-0 lead. Seattle answered with back-to-back goals to cut the lead to 5-2.
But West Sound’s Alec Johnson was the timely recipient of a bad bounce off Seattle goalie Naoki Onadera 12 minutes in. The puck ricocheted right to Johnson who was coming in fast on the right, and he buried the puck past Onadera’s stick side for a 6-2 score. Seattle did add one more goal in a flurry of activity in front of Eisele at the 17:35 mark but that would be it for the Totems.
Smith said Eisele’s consistency, especially his ability to shut down the breakaways by Seattle, was a game changer.
“Those were huge momentum plays,” he said. “It set the tone again. I was really proud of him.”
Koll snagged the hat trick when he scored on a long shot from near the red line into Seattle’s empty net with two and a half minutes remaining.
From there it was all about running out the clock and keeping the puck off Seattle’s sticks.
The defensive play by the Warriors was vital in the win. West Sound hounded the Totems whenever they were able to get into the Warriors offensive zone.
“The biggest thing our forecheck was on par so if the puck’s not in our zone usually good things happen out of that,” Smith said. “I thought that was our best aspect of the game was slowing them down coming up the ice, and once we got into our zone, we worked it out pretty well.”
Eisele said he and his teammates will enjoy the win for a day and then get ready to take on Idaho.
“They’re a good team, so we have to be ready,” he said.