The Soldotna and Wasilla hockey teams have cultivated quite a spectacular rivalry on the ice in recent meetings, starting with last year’s quadruple overtime finish at the North Star Conference championship game.
That’s why Thursday’s conference matchup between the two was out of the ordinary. Sparked by an offensive outburst, the Stars rattled off a 6-2 win over the Warriors to secure their first NSC win of the year, moving them to 1-4-1 in the conference (6-8-2 overall).
Ty Fenton scored twice for the Stars and Soldotna freshman Billy Yoder stopped 33 of 35 shots to earn the victory in goal.
“There’s definitely a good rivalry between us,” Fenton said about playing Wasilla. “It always goes back and forth, a lot of overtime games, but it was good to put this one away early.”
SoHi head coach Derek Urban said getting the win was big for Yoder, who has performed admirably in net for the Stars this season but does not own many wins to show for it.
“I think Billy was looking for a little bounce back,” Urban said. “I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself, and he’s always striving, working hard in practice.
“He wants to put the weight on his little freshman shoulders and carry us along.”
Cameron Knowlton, Coel Nelson, Cole Crandall and Ethan Brown added goals for Soldotna. Levi Hensley and Trevor Witthus both added a pair of assists.
Urban said breaking the team’s recent losing skid was also a big relief.
“I think we could still be better, but that was the highest offensive output we’ve had in a long time,” Urban said. “We were shut out versus Homer, and only two (goals) against Kenai, so this was nice.”
Fenton opened the scoring with a goal before three minutes were up in the first period, finding the puck and open space in front of the Wasilla net and firing from between the faceoff circles.
Knowlton scored early in the second period with a pinpoint shot from the outer arc of the right circle, and Nelson’s goal put SoHi up 3-0 with 5:35 to play in the frame.
Shortly after, however, the Stars began to become sloppy. Soldotna was hit with a roughing penalty, which Wasilla took advantage of on the ensuing power play, scoring 27 seconds after the call to cut the deficit to 3-1. Luke Schruf collected a pass from Garrett Conroy and had a clear shot at Yoder to score.
“At that point, it was a little nervewracking,” Urban said. “We started getting off our game a little bit and started taking some not-smart penalties, and against Wasilla, you can’t give them opportunities like that. We addressed that between the second and third periods.”
Fortunately, Crandall answered back for SoHi, converting a rebound to notch a crucial goal that put the Stars back up by three.
Fenton iced the game early with a goal in the first two minutes of the third period. Fenton said Wasilla goalie Kiana Verplancke gave the Stars as much as they could handle, but the shot came on instinct.
“It was just hard work by my linemates, and trying to get some shots on net,” Fenton said. “They have a good goaltender, but we were able to get some good shots and finish.”
Soldotna will face Palmer today at 4:15 p.m., then finishes off the weekend Saturday at 4:15 p.m. against Colony.
Colony 5, Kenai 0
The Knights dominated a North Star Conference matchup against the hometown Kardinals, scoring twice in the opening 3:14 of the game to notch the shutout.
It was enough to impress Colony coach Jamie Smith. When asked if he was looking to change anything up in preparation for Friday and Saturday’s games against Homer and Soldotna (respectively), Smith simply shook his head and replied, “Why would we?”
Colony goalie Joey Diltz recorded the shutout with 13 saves, while Kenai goaltender Nate O’Lena felt the pressure all night, stopping 46 of 51 shots sent his way.
“He took 51 shots on goal, and he can’t stop everything, so the rest of the team has to be supportive,” said Kenai coach Michael Tilly. “We made a few mistakes that he wasn’t able to cover us on.
“But overall, I’m not disappointed in the way we played tonight.”
The Knights improved to 12-2-1 on the season, while Kenai dropped to 2-11 overall.
Isaac Vincent opened the scoring for Colony with a goal just 17 ticks into the game, getting help from Otto Thiele and Cy Eller to put the Knights up one early.
Smith credited the long development of the Knights hockey program for the offensive production.
“It sparked us right away,” Smith said. “We came out and had some pace going. That’s what we needed to do.”
Kenai held onto the two-goal lead for the bulk of the first and second periods, but let a third goal slip in on a Colony power play with a mere eight seconds remaining in the second frame.
“Those are frustrating, because you can give the kids all the training and practice you can give them, but they got to put it in the net,” Tilly said. “We must have had six or seven gorgeous opportunities, and we just didn’t capitalize.”
Colony owned the shots tally with a 51-13 advantage, and managed to kill off all six Kenai power plays rather effectively, including the final 27 seconds of the game when Kenai had a 5-on-3 man advantage.
Josh Boyer and Jake Branch added goals in the third period.
Kenai will play Wasilla today at 1:45 p.m. before finishing off the weekend with a Saturday matchup against Palmer at 1:45 p.m.
Palmer 3, Homer 0
The visiting Moose got a shutout from Cody Grogan in picking up the North Star Conference victory Thursday.
Josh Meyers, Noah Keil and Chris Dojka had the goals for the Moose.
Stars 6, Warriors 2
Soldotna 1 3 2 —6
Wasilla 0 1 1 —2
1st period — 1. Soldotna, Fenton (Hensley), 2:51. Penalties — none.
2nd period — 2. Soldotna, Knowlton (Witthus, Daugherty), 1:52; 3. Soldotna, Nelson (Endsley, Lott), 9:25; 4. Wasilla, Schruf (Conroy, Marks), 10:36; 5. Soldotna, Crandall (Nelson, Witthus), 12:53. Penalties — Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
3rd period — 6. Soldotna, Fenton (Miller, Hensley), PP, 1:43; 7. Wasilla, Brunnhoelzl (Park, Morrison), 8:25; 8. Soldotna, Brown (unassisted), 12:23. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Wasilla 1 for 2:00.
Shots — Soldotna 6-7-10—23; Wasilla 11-15-9—35.
Goalies — Soldotna, Yoder (35 shots, 33 saves); Wasilla, Verplancke (13 shots, 9 saves), Curry (10 shots, 8 saves).
Power plays — Soldotna 1 for 1; Wasilla 0 for 4.
Knights 5, Kardinals 0
Colony 2 1 2 —5
Kenai 0 0 0 —0
1st period — 1. Colony, Vincent (Thiele, Eller), :17; 2. Colony, Kirsch (Riekena, Mitchell), 3:14. Penalties — Colony 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 3. Colony, Link (Boyer, Thiele), PP, 14:52. Penalties — Colony 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 4. Colony, Boyer (Link), 2:40; 5. Colony, Branch (Bloemer, Hessinger), 5:14. Penalties — Colony 5 for 10:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots — Kenai 5-5-3—13; Colony 21-15-15—51.
Goalies — Kenai, O’Lena (51 shots, 46 saves); Colony, Diltz (13 shots, 13 saves).
Power plays — Kenai 0 for 8; Colony 1 for 2.
Moose 3, Mariners 0
Palmer 1 0 2 —3
Homer 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Palmer, Meyers (un.), 14:18. Penalties — none.
Second period — none. Penalties — Palmer 1 for 2:00.