LYNDEN - Squalicum's efforts through the first half were fruitless against Lynden's back line.
Time and again, well-placed shots found the hands of the Lions' keeper, Hector Gutierrez, who continually used his long frame to keep the undefeated Storm scoreless going into the break.
But in one quick flash in the 52nd minute, Christian Chala broke through a Lions' double team, eventually forcing a shot that made its way to freshman Ben Peterson's waiting feet, leading to his second varsity goal of his young career.
"It was pretty much Chala. He dribbled down, took two guys on, the goalie came out and I was following up," Peterson said. "Whenever you got Chala, a guy who's as good as him dribbling the ball down, you want to follow it up because something is going to happen."
The lone goal was all Squalicum (4-0-1, Northwest Conference 2-0-0) would need to hand Lynden (2-3-2, NWC 1-1-1) a 1-0 conference loss on Friday, March 28, at Bender Fields. Gutierrez, despite allowing the single goal, recorded 15 saves, several of which came in one-on-one situations after Storm forwards navigated through a young Lions club.
"He's brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant goalkeeper," Lynden coach Drew Smiley said. "It's such a luxury to have that. ... He's the best goalie in the league - there's no doubt about that."
The matchup presented two teams at opposite ends of the age spectrum in the NWC.
Squalicum coach Joe McAuliffe has 11 seniors at his disposal versus Smiley's two, with Lynden also rostering eight freshmen and sophomores, many of which see significant playing time, Smiley said.
The gap in experience was evident throughout much of the game.
The Storm controlled the field, dictating the flow and continually pressuring Lynden's back line to the tune of 18 shots on goal against the Lions' two. That focus, McAuliffe said, was a welcomed sight given his team allowed Burlington-Edison an early goal on Tuesday that he thought was indicative of a lapse in focus.
"We've had a couple times where we've gotten an early goal and we relaxed a little bit and let the other side get back into it," the Storm coach said. "This time, we would like more goals, but (we) defensively were sound and were protecting, working and weren't getting too casual."
It wasn't long before Squalicum's offense tested Gutierrez in net.
In the 10th minute Conner Stevens rung a shot off the top crossbar, and several minutes later BJ Flood received a cross just feet from the front of the net that was snuffed out by Gutierrez, eliciting a look of bewilderment from the Squalicum forward.
Minutes before the end of the first, Gutierrez again made a lunging save against Chala in a one-on-one situation, preserving what was still a tie at that point, but it foreshadowed what was becoming evident: sooner or later the Storm were going to wear down Lynden's defense.
"We've got guys that were a little frustrated with the lack of offense we created, but every single player on their roster is bigger, faster, stronger, and has two more years of experience. ... They eat these guys for breakfast," Smiley said. "It was definitely a chess match for us at least. Joe has so many weapons, I don't know how much chess he's playing. He's more playing with nuclear weapons than chess."
The pressure continued into the onset of the second half where Peterson finally broke the tie after Chala's pressure forced the issue.
Holding Squalicum to one goal was a victory of sorts for Smiley and his club, he said, adding that "I really thing they are the best team in the state right now. I really do."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
SQUALICUM 1, LYNDEN 0
Goal: Ben Peterson (Squalicum); Assist: Christian Chala; Time: 52:00. Shots on goal: Squalicum: 18; Lynden: 2; Saves (goalies); Squalicum: Trenton Langer 2; Lynden: Hector Gutierrez 15. N