There's no concerns about a hockey lockout in Carson City these days. Instead, the Carson Senators are on a hot streak and looking to finish their season on top of the Northern Nevada Roller Hockey League.
The Senators are 10-1 and have the league's regular season title in hand - the fourth year in a row they've achieved that feat - and now they're looking to add the league tournament championship that has proven elusive the last couple of years.
"We've lost out the last couple of years, but we definitely want to win it this year," said senior defenseman Dustin Zastre. "I know I don't want to finish school without winning."
Zastre and junior forward Ryan Dwyer have combined to score 38 goals in 11 games, making them and their Carson teammates forces to reckon with. Zastre finished the regular season with 18 goals and 19 assists, while Dwyer had 20 goals and 13 assists.
The Senators showed some balance Saturday when they defeated Galena 10-2 and Elko 3-2 in their final regular season contests at the Sierra Ice & Sportsplex. Four other seniors contributed to win against Galena: Charlie Macquarie scored three goals, Todd Crowell and Colin Cormier had two each and Matt Miller one, while Dwyer scored two goals. In the come-from-behind win against Elko, Cormier scored once, Bud Kop delivered the go-ahead goal (assisted by Zastre and Dwyer) early in the third period, and Macquarie scored an insurance goal.
Zastre didn't score, but he did contribute a pair of key assists in the two games while playing with a cast to protect his broken right hand.
This marks the fourth straight year Carson has finished first in the league's regular season. The Senators have advanced to the tournament finals each of the last three years, although they've fallen short of bringing home a postseason championship. They lost to Bishop Union (Calif.) in the 2003 tournament final and lost to Reed last year.
Carson has won four straight since sustaining its only loss - 5-2 against Douglas on Jan. 21 in Carson City. That game was stopped with more than 10 minutes left to play due to dense fog and ice which made the Pony Express Pavilion rink unsafe to play on.
The Senators came back a week later to post a 9-2 win against Douglas, the league's second-place team.
"The kids have done a great job since Christmas," coach Billy McHenry said. "We made an adjustment and put Ryan and Dustin on different lines, and that's kind of opened up the scoring for some of the other guys."
Zastre plays on one line with Crowell, John Jewell, Eric Hastings and Cormier. The other line - known as the "Young Guns" - consists of Miller, Kop, Macquarie and Dwyer.
"When it started, Ryan and Bud were freshmen, and Charlie and I were sophomores. We were the youngest on the team, so we got the nicknames 'Young Guns,' and it just stuck," Miller said. "We've played together three years with that line, so we know each other really well and we've really been clicking.
"And Dustin's such a strong player, he can play well with any line," he went on. "By splitting them up, we can get more production. We don't really have a weak line, that's for sure. I don't think the goalie on the other team is too happy with us."
Travis Hall and Richie Copeland have shared time at goalkeeper, anchoring a defense that has been solid all season.
Now, the Senators are motivated to win the league tournament, which will be played March 4-6.
"We've come out on top of the league every single year, and then we get to the playoffs, and didn't get it done. This year we hope to change that," Macquarie said.
They believe they can do it.
"If we play like we can, we can win," Miller said. "We have to play like we've been playing, and keep passing and playing well. Reed and Bishop have good teams. I think Carson and Douglas are the two best teams."
This is a group that has played together and against each other for years - dating back to their youth league days.
"It's not just a team, it's more a family," Miller said. "This team right here has been together for about three years, so we know each other pretty well.
"That's definitely a big part. We've played together and we've played against each other for countless years, so we know each other pretty well. It's really nice to know where everybody's going to be on the rink."
Dwyer pointed to a goal Macquarie scored to give Carson a 4-0 lead against Galena on Saturday.
"I just threw it to the middle, I knew Charlie would be there, and it went right to his stick," Dwyer said, flashing a smile.
With plays like that, perhaps the rest of the league would prefer to stage a lockout of their own - and lock the Senators out.
Well, McHenry knows better than that.
"The tournament is a free-for-all because everybody makes it," the coach said. "A lot of teams in this league have shown they have the ability to beat other people, so we're not taking anybody lightly.
"Last year, we went in as the No. 1 seed and the first round we played the 11th seeded team and it ended up going to a shootout. The tournament really is a whole new ball game, so we've got to make sure we're ready to play."
Reach Dave Price at 881-1220 or at email@example.com.