GRANITE CITY — The Bethalto Eagles continue to get hot.
After completing a two-game sweep over the East Alton-Wood River Oilers in the MVCHA 1A semifinal series on Tuesday, the Eagles have won nine of their last 10 games.
Now, Bethalto is two wins away from a league championship. The Eagles will play the Collinsville Kahoks in the best of three MVCHA 1A championship series that starts at 7:15 p.m. on Feb. 22 at East Alton Ice Arena.
“Our ultimate goal is to get to the championship game this year and we made it to the championship series,” Bethalto coach Derek Kahl said. “It’s where we want to be.”
The Eagles cruised to a 6-1 win over EA-WR on Tuesday in game two of the semifinal series at Granite City Ice Rink to advance to the championship round. Bethalto beat the Oilers 5-1 in game one on Monday.
“It felt really good,” Bethalto senior goaltender Justin Meyer said. “We’ve been working all season and I think we deserved it. They came out hard in both games and played really well.”
Last year, the Eagles lost to the Oilers in the semifinals. With Tuesday’s win, Bethalto finished with a 5-0 mark over EA-WR this season.
“We felt like the key in this series was us getting off to a fast start and we weren’t able to do that in either game, so we saw what happened,” EA-WR coach John Helmkamp said. “It is what it is. You tip your cap to them. They played two solid games against us.”
The Oilers finished their season at 9-16 after getting off to an 0-4 start. EA-WR advanced to the semifinal round by sweeping Granite City in two games in the first round last week.
“There were four other teams that didn’t make it to the second round, so we’re happy to at least get here and give ourselves a shot of getting to the championship,” Helmkamp said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
The Eagles, who are the No. 1 seed in the six-team 1A playoff bracket, roared to a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back. They scored three more goals in the third period.
Junior Joe Watson scored a pair of goals, including one with 12:08 left in the first period that gave Bethalto a 1-0 lead. Senior Gage Wendle, juniors Konnar Loewen and Anthony Russo and sophomore Alex Winter each scored a goal.
“It was a huge win for us,” Kahl said. “The kids came out and played hard the entire game. We knew Wood River was going to come out desperate. They came out and played very physical and skated very hard. We got a couple of lucky bounces that went into the net.”
Kahl said he’s thrilled that the senior class of Meyer, Gage Wendle, Justin Wendle, Kirklyn Hansen and Alec Hilliard will get a chance to play in the championship series.
“It’s a great thing for them,” the Bethalto coach said. “We played tonight’s game for our seniors and we played for the seniors who got knocked out by Wood River (in the semifinals) last year.”
Freshman Kaleb Harrop scored the Oilers’ lone goal with four minutes left in the first. His power-play goal cut the Eagles’ lead to 3-1.
Cole Ford, Blake Weishaupt, Chris Hamby, Tyson Knight, Bryce Bazzell and Blake Stone played their final high school hockey games for EA-WR on Tuesday.
“You could never replace the guys who are outgoing because everybody’s got to take a step up for next year,” said Helmkamp, whose team was seeded fourth.
The Eagles were 5-8 on Dec. 22. After beating Alton on Jan. 19, Bethalto improved to 10-9 and never got back under .500 since.
The Eagles will carry a seven-game winning streak into their championship series with third-seeded Collinsville, which completed a two-game sweep over second-seeded Alton in the other semifinal series on Tuesday. Bethalto beat the Kahoks twice during the regular season.
Meyer said a league championship will be pretty special for the senior class.
“It would mean a lot,” Meyer said. “We’ve been working all season for it. We had some ups and downs throughout the season, but we came back at the end.”