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Homer hockey moves to state semis

A hot goaltender is the ultimate difference maker in postseason hockey.

That was the theme as both the Kenai Central and Soldotna hockey teams fell on the opening day of the Division II state hockey tournament at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center on Thursday.

The Kardinals, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, fell to No. 7 North Pole 1-0 despite outshooting the Patriots 35-15.

The Stars, the No. 5 seed, dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to No. 4 Homer despite winning 33-25 on shots.

Homer (8-10-1 overall), the two-time defending state champions, plays No. 1 Houston today at 4 p.m. in the semifinals. Homer split two games with Houston, which defeated No. 8 Monroe Catholic 8-1 on Thursday.

Kenai (12-9-1) will play No. 6 Juneau at 1:30 p.m. today, while Soldotna (11-9-2) plays Monroe at 11 a.m. today. The Kardinals have a pair of victories against the Crimson Bears this season, including one in overtime. Juneau lost to No. 3 Palmer 7-2. Palmer plays North Pole in the other semi at 7 p.m.

In the Kenai game, Patriots goalie Nic Clark stopped all 35 shots he saw as North Pole defeated Kenai at state for the third straight year.

“We were all over him,” Kenai coach Scott Shelden said of Clark. “We did everything you’d want to. We couldn’t buy a goal.”

Carson Koppes made 14 saves for the Kardinals. North Pole didn’t solve him until 1:59 was left in the game, when Nick Jones scored a rebound goal.

“It was going to happen eventually for one team or the other,” Shelden said. “It was a scramble. I’m not even sure what happened.”

Shelden said he’s proud of the way his team played.

“No game is perfect, but we played a really good game,” he said. “We just ran into a hot goaltender. That’s the way it goes, sometimes.”

With 4:27 left in the game, Kenai went on the power play and pelted Clark with pucks, to no avail. Jones scored shortly after his team got back to full strength, then Kenai pulled Coppes after a timeout with 1:27 to play and again poured on pressure with no result.

Shelden said the opportunity for Kenai to play two more games is a great blessing, but now the Kardinals must find a way to rebound and regroup after the loss.

Homer 3, Soldotna 2, OT

With 31 saves, Homer goalie Keegan Strong once again showed off the clutch goaltending that has led the Mariners to the last two state titles.

After Gehret Medcoff, assisted by Dylan Dahlgren, tied the game for SoHi at 2 with 7:08 to play, Strong would not allow another goal until teammate Casey Otis, unassisted, was able to end the game 4:44 into the first eight-minute overtime.

The two teams had split during the regular season.

“We had the momentum on our side after scoring the tying goal,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “We were moving toward victory and Strong shut the door.”

Homer head coach Mike Barth said his team did a good job responding to the Medcoff goal.

“I definitely think momentum was not in our favor when that goal happened,” he said. “It definitely took a bit of grinding, and it definitely helped having Keegan. He had a fantastic game for us, for sure.”

Zurfluh said the game-winning goal wasn’t anybody’s fault. He said it was a puck the Stars should have gotten out of the zone. When the puck turned over, Otis had a great opportunity on Tanner Clyde, who made 22 saves.

“Tanner Clyde played a really good game,” Zurfluh said.

Otis is the leading goal scorer for the Mariners.

“He picked the puck up off the wall and came off the wall in a commanding way,” Barth said. “He sold it one way and put it up high in the net where he wasn’t looking.”

Homer got on the board in the first period when Owen Pitzman deflected a shot by Dylan Arno. Seamus Hatton also had an assist.

Soldotna answered later in the first period when Aiden Burcham worked a give-and-go with Josh O’Lena.

“He ran up the ice and made a nice shot as he crossed the line,” Zurfluh said of Burcham. “He sniped him.”

The Mariners went up 2-1 in the second period when Micah Williamson scored unassisted.

Barth said Homer strives to hit some marks internally as a team each game. He said the group underperformed in hitting those marks. The key is the way the Mariners responded.

“Today was a big team effort,” Barth said. “For the guys that played, things were not going their way and they were not having the game they wanted. It takes just one player going off the rails to make the whole situation worse.

“The whole team stuck to the plan, grinding it out shift after shift. That was a huge part of our success.”

Medcoff was able to answer back in the third.

“We were throwing everything at the net at that point,” Zurfluh said. “We were looking to get traffic in front of the net and get nasty.

“The shot was from an odd angle and it ended up bouncing through feet. Strong was kind of cheating off his post.”

Zurfluh said the whole team played well, with the big quantity of minutes that Dahlgren logged on defense really standing out. Burcham also stood out on defense.

The coach said freshmen Daniel Heath, Marshall Dereave and Boone Theiler did well battling one of Homer’s top lines, and freshman defensemen Zack Zurfluh also played key minutes.

With the way sophomores Medcoff, Clyde and defenseman Andrew Arthur played, Zurfluh said the future is bright.

“We definitely want to continue playing with pride and not hang our heads or give up,” Zurfluh said. “We still want to play for our seniors.”

Thursday

Patriots 1, Kardinals 0

North Pole 0 0 1 —1

Kenai 0 0 0 —0

First period — none. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.

Second period — none. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 15:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.

Third period — 1. North Pole, Jones (un.), 13:01. Penalties — Kenai 2 for 4:00; North Pole 4 for 8:00.

Shots on goal — North Pole 3-8-4—15; Kenai 9-16-10—35.

Goalies — North Pole, N. Clark (35 shots, 35 saves); Kenai, Koppes (15 shots, 14 saves).

Mariners 3, Stars 2, OT

Soldotna 1 1 0 0 —2

Homer 1 0 1 1 —3

First period — 1. Homer, Pitzman (Arno, Hatton), 6:06; 2. Soldotna, Burcham (un.), 11:10. Penalties — none.

Second period — 3. Homer, Williamson (un.), 9:13. Penalties — none.

Third period — 4. Soldotna, Medcoff (Dahlgren), 7:52. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00.

Overtime — 5. Homer, Otis (un.), 11:54. Penalties — none.

Shots on goal — Soldotna 7-16-8-2—33; Homer 10-5-7-3—25.

Goalies — Soldotna, Clyde (25 shots, 22 saves); Homer, Strong (33 shots, 31 saves).

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