In their weekend of hockey in a shortened season, the Homer Mariners split two games, winning against the Kenai Kardinals before falling to the Soldotna Stars in overtime.
The Mariners started the weekend with a Friday win over the Kards, 5-4. It was the first hockey game of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District season, which began later than usual due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, and which will be limited in the regular season to just these three peninsula teams.
Homer’s Casey Otis scored the first goal of the game about halfway through the first quarter, with an assist from Kazden Stineff. The Kards answered with a goal of their own less than a minute later, scored by Landen Cialek with assists from Daniel Sheldon and Jacob Begich. Homer went on to grab one more point that period with a goal scored by Hunter Green, assisted by Otis and Matfey Reutov.
The second period saw only one goal, from Kenai’s Blake Bucho, tying up the score. In the third, Homer’s Stineff helped the Mariners pull ahead to 3-2 with help from Otis, and Kenai once again tied the score with another goal from Cialek, assisted by Sheldon and Aidan Milburn.
Homer was then able to pull away to 5-3 with goals from Oits, assisted by Sam Banks and Fiona Hatton, and Sineff, assisted by Oits and Banks. Though the Kardinals scored once more with four minutes left in the third period, it wasn’t enough for the win.
The Homer hockey team has a new coach this year in Mike Barth, though he is not new to coaching the sport in the area. Barth had coached youth hockey in Homer for seven years before taking over this season after former coach Steve Nevak announced last year he would not be returning.
Barth said he thought Friday’s game went well. He said each season is a process, especially considering the group of seniors lost through graduation after last season.
“So now this season is an opportunity for the younger guys to come in and try to learn that role and take over those tasks,” Barth said.
The team won’t have many games to figure things out, Barth said. He said overall that the Mariners performed as expected in their first game.
Barth said he’s worked with some of the Mariners in the past when they participated in youth hockey, but that this is his first time working with the majority of them.
“So it’s been cool to kind of get to know them, they get to know me,” he said. “Obviously learning a different coaching style, possibly a different playing style a little bit.”
This year’s season started in January and lasts through late February. Barth said that while the team can practice on the ice, the pandemic has taken away the ability for the team to have more social interactions and bond in that way.
“You’re on the ice, you’re working on your hockey stuff, but the personal side of things, which is equally as important, has been kind of rough this year,” Barth said.
Saturday’s game had fewer points on the scoreboard for both the Mariners and the Soldotna Stars, but seemed to have a quicker pace overall. Soldotna head coach Indy Walton said that although the Stars outshot Homer 31 to 21, the game could have gone either way.
“Each team had their opportunities,” he said.
The Stars put the first point on the board with a first period goal by Aiden Burcham, assisted by Dylan Walton. Homer answered in the second period with a goal from Otis, assisted by Stineff, to tie up the game 1.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the third period, leading to an eight-minute overtime period. Soldotna’s Gavin Haakenson scored about halfway through that overtime period with an assist from Dylan Walton to end the game.
Walton credited Homer’s team, which won the Division II state championship title last year in a final game against the Stars.
“It’s always a great game with them,” he said.
Walton said the team’s goaltender, freshman Tanner Clyde, performed particularly well.
“He ended up being one of the stars of the game,” he said.
He also credited his son, Dylan, and Haakenson for their effort.
“They killed off penalty after penalty and had scoring opportunities … and finally they ended up scoring and got the game winner, shorthanded,” Walton said.
He added that the team has found playing games with masks on, as required by the school district, difficult. Walton said the Alaska Student Activities Association had approved hockey teams to play games without face coverings, and that he feels that organization should supersede the district in that matter.
“Our school district needs to re-evaluate this,” Walton said.
Of Saturday’s game, Barth said he thought the Mariners played better as a team than they did against Kenai on Friday.
“Yesterday we felt like we were getting better with every shift, and every period,” he said. “And today we’re looking at two games going, from the start of the game to the end of the game we kept improving continually so, you know, that is encouraging.”
Over the weekend, Barth said he was glad to see every line, and pretty much every player within each line, being actively involved in the games.
“It’s nice to see that they’re looking for those opportunities to pass the puck and move it,” he said.
Some of the bigger focuses for improvement right now are intensity and speed, Barth said.
Mariners 5, Kardinals 4
Kenai 1 1 2 —4
Homer 2 0 3 —5
First period — 1. Homer, Otis (Stineff), 0:50; 2. Kenai, Cialek (Sheldon, Begich), 6:47; 3. Homer, Geen (Reutov, 53), 13:13.
Second period — 4. Kenai, Bucho (Sheldon), 6:46.
Third period — 5. Homer, Stineff (Otis), 0:58; 6. Kenai, Cialek (Sheldon, Milburn), 2:33; 7. Homer, Otis (Banks, Hatton), 7:30; 8. Homer, Stineff (Otis, Banks), 10:11; 9. Kenai, Cialek (Begich, Bucho), 10:58.
Shots on goal — Kenai 11-9-17—37; Homer 6-5-11—22.
Stars 2, Mariners 1, OT
Soldotna 1 0 0 1 —2
Homer 0 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Soldotna, Burcham (Walton), 13:08.
Second period — 2. Homer, Otis (Stineff), 5:35.
Overtime — 3. Soldotna, Haakenson (Walton), 4:21.
Goalies — Soldotna, Clyde (21 shots, 20 saves); Homer, Strong (31 shots, 29 saves).