PALMER — With Billy Yoder, being his typical Billy Yoder self, a sense of anxiety hovered over the Colony bench when Soldotna tied the game at 1 early in the third period.
But later in the final frame, Colony finally got to Yoder, SoHi’s standout goaltender, and the Knights scored a 4-1 win over the Stars in the semifinal round of the North Star Conference Championships on Friday at the MTA Events Center in Palmer.
“I didn’t like that 1-1 game. That was a turning point for them,” Colony head coach Jamie Smith said after the win.
After Soldotna’s Jace Urban tied the score at 1 with 11:28 left in the third, Colony scored three unanswered goals to move into the NSC title game against Wasilla for the third straight year and grab the conference’s final bid to the state tournament.
In the tournament championship game, Colony scored a 3-2 win over Wasilla to claim the North Star title.
The Stars ended just short of a fourth state berth in five years.
“I thought we battled really hard, and up until the bitter end, it was anybody’s game,” said Soldotna head coach Derek Urban. “We gave ourselves an opportunity and that’s all we could ask for.”
When it was all said and done, the Stars finished with a 15-10-1 campaign overall.
Even when Colony went back up by a goal, they had the positivity to do it.
Foster Riekena, Otto Thiele and Jake Hessinger each scored during the final 6:40 of play. Riekena scored the eventual game-winner, a goal created by the continued effort of Hessinger. As Hessinger worked the puck out of the right wing corner, slipping toward the ice, Hessinger sent a sharp pass between the circles to Riekena, who fired a shot past Yoder.
“I told them, keep working, the time will come,” Smith said.
About four minutes later, Thiele scored to give the Knights the 3-1 lead. Hessinger added to the advantage, burying a shot into the empty net with 26 seconds left in regulation.
Cooper Smith put the Knights on top late in the second period. Thiele pulled a puck of the back boards, and sent a centering pass to Smith, who cut between the circles to put the puck past Yoder. Urban tied the game early in the third, taking a Colony turnover at the bottom of the right wing circle and pushing a shot into the Colony net.
Yoder, a junior, made 30 saves in the loss.
“That was probably one of, if not the best, games that Billy played all year,” Urban said. “On that stage, he knew he had to step up.”
Urban also praised the efforts of the seniors on the team, a talented bunch that includes Matthew Daugherty, Corey Hanson, Levi Hensley, Trevor Witthus and Jace Urban.
“After the game was over, I told them I was appreciative of the four years and how they’ve matured and how far they’ve come as young men,” coach Urban said. “They all have bright futures and they’ll keep pushing hard.”
Wasilla, the top seed, scored a 5-3 win over Palmer earlier in the evening. Garrett Conroy and Alex Clark scored a pair of goals each to help Wasilla advance to the conference title game for the first time since 2015. Porter Schachle also scored for the Warriors.
RJ Avezac, Jaron Ketterman and David Scully scored for the Moose.Palmer goalie Cody Grogan capped his stellar career with 50 saves in the loss.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Knights 4, Stars 1
First period — no scoring.
Second period — 1. Colony, Smith (Thiele, Ketchum), 2:12.
Third period — 2. Soldotna, J. Urban (unassisted) 11:28; 3. Colony, Riekena (Hessinger, Smith) 6:40; 4. Colony, Thiele (Ketchum, Kirsch) 2:04; 5. Colony, Hessinger (Thiele) en 0:26.
Shots on goal: Soldotna 5-5-2—12, Colony 7-11-15—33, Saves: Soldotna- Yoder 7-10-13—30, Colony- Diltz 5-5-1—11.
Warriors 5, Moose 3
First period — 1. Wasilla, Conroy (Moore) 9:25; 2. Wasilla, Conroy (unassisted) 6:44; 3. Palmer, Avezac (unassisted) 0:06.
Second period — 4. Wasilla, Clark (Harren) 11:40; 5. Wasilla, Schachle (Harren, Clark) 4;39.
Third period — 6. Wasilla, Clark (Schachle, Moore) en 0:26; 7. Palmer, Scully (unassisted) 0:00.
Shots on goal: Palmer 4-3-6—13, Wasilla 17-19-18—54; Saves: Palmer- Grogan 15-17-18—50, Wasilla- Carney 3-3-4—10.