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‘It can get scrappy at times’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Although the weather just has not given the state much hint of winter, the Los Alamos ice hockey team is halfway through its schedule as it starts gearing up for the annual state championship.

The Hilltoppers are coming off a fourth-place finish in the Mid-Season Showcase last weekend in Rio Rancho, which didn’t exactly please coach Kevin Brake.

“If you’re going to show up to a tournament, you want to win,” he said. “If you don’t want to win, you shouldn’t be going.”

Still, getting a solid performance from the team is something to build on moving forward

“The way our league is structured, it’s all about that year-end tournament,” Brake said. “So it’s not do or die, but any time we’re on the ice, we’re looking for a win.”

Although the players wanted to skate off with the mid-season trophy, they’re more focused on the prize at the end of the season.

Goaltender Zachery Brown makes a save for the Hilltoppers against Amarillo as defenseman Dara Armstrong provides support. (Courtesy of Glen Rosales)

“This is good for checking where we are in the middle of the season,” said sophomore goaltender Zachery Brown. “We’re checking different areas and where we need to improve.”

Likewise, junior winger Carson Schramm said the tournament is good for sending a message across the league.

“It’s pretty important to show that we’re one of the top teams in the league and that we’re dominant,” he said. “So, if we stay strong throughout the tournament, hopefully everybody knows what we’re about.”

Schramm netted the game-winner in the tournament opener with a slick top-shelf wrist shot against Amarillo, then turned to the opponents’ bench for a few words.

“It was a good feeling,” said Schramm, who also plays football and rugby. “It’s always nice to score, so I gotta make sure they know that we’re beating them. Gotta make sure they know who’s winning the game.”

Hilltoppers’ captain Ben Rees circles behind the Amarillo net looking for an opening. (Courtesy of Glen Rosales)

Los Alamos has a strong tradition of performing well in the league, as does its northern rival, Taos.

In previous years, the two teams would be the only “pure” teams made of players solely from their respective school districts and, as such, would battle for the pure championship while also competing for the overall league championship, but that’s changed this season, Brake said.

“Santa Fe didn’t have a varsity team, so we let the Santa Fe players go to us or to Taos, whichever team they wanted to try out for,” he said. “We got a player and I think they got a couple of players. So, this year for the first time now there’s one league championship.”

The league also includes teams from Texas and Colorado, but it’s the rivalry between the ‘Toppers and Tigers that frequently takes center stage.

“The Northstar trophy is something that we play for every time we step on the ice,” Blake said. “It’s a great rivalry dating back all the way to when I played. It’s a great time.”

The players always look forward to those games, as well.

“It’s a very interesting game,” Brown said. “We know people on that team, they know us. It can get scrappy at times, but it’s still a lot of fun.”