PALMER — It won’t count in the North Star Conference standings, but the Kenai Central Kardinals got a little redemption against a region foe Thursday.
Jakeb O’Brien scored with 1 minute, 33 seconds, left in regulation to lift the Kards to a 6-5 win over Palmer during the first round of the Big Lake Lions Christmas Classic at the Big Lake Recreation Center. The win comes a week after Kenai finished 0-3 against the three Valley teams in the North Star at home, a stretch that included a 6-2 loss to the Moose.
“We had a hard weekend against the Valley,” Kenai first-year head coach Jacob Newton said after the win. “To come back and take it to them was nice.”
Levi Mese used four goals and an assist to help the Kards move forward in the bracket. Kenai will meet another region rival, Wasilla, Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the semifinals.
Mese buried breakaways to give the Kards their early lead, and Newton said a team effort allowed Kenai to grind out the victory.
“They knew collectively on the bench they needed to step up,” Newton said. “They got each other fired up on the bench, and got it figured out.”
Palmer used a pair of goals within a span of 1:17 early in the second period to take a 4-2 lead.
“We saw Palmer put a couple in, and (our players) realized, man, we are standing flat-footed,” Newton said.
Mese notched a hat trick at the 6:40 mark of the second period to cut Palmer’s lead to 4-3. Jordan Knutson buried a one-timer from the right wing circle less than two minutes later to tie the score at 4.
Mese knocked in a rebound early in the third to collect his fourth goal of the game, and give the Kards the 5-4 lead. After Palmer tied the game at 5, O’Brien picked up a loose puck in the Palmer defensive zone and found the back of the net to supply the game-winner.
Early in the first period, Mese beat a pair of defensemen to score on a breakaway and give the Kards the 1-0 lead. Mese added another breakaway goal midway through the first period.
Noah Keil led Palmer with two goals and two assists. Just more than two minutes after Mese gave Kenai the 1-0 lead, Keil fired a shot from between the circles into the upper corner of the net. Seconds into the second period, Keil bounced a puck past Kenai goalie Joshua Tree to tie the score at 2.
With 9:37 left in the second, Palmer took its first lead of the game when Darian Wilson knocked in a rebound off a Keil shot. Less than two minutes later, RJ Avezac scored off another rebound to push Palmer’s lead to 4-2.
Palmer outshot Kenai 45-29 in the loss. Tree made 39 saves for the Kards.
North Pole 5, Soldotna 3
Traivin Siebels scored with 2:29 left in the game Thursday to break a 3-all tie and send the Patriots to a nonconference victory over the Stars in Fairbanks.
Soldotna sophomore Galen Brantley III completed a rally from down 3-1 to tie it up in the opening seconds of the third period, following a strong second period that saw the Stars outshoot North Pole 17-3.
Soldotna head coach Indy Walton said in a text that Soldotna will have played seven games in 10 days by Saturday, but the Stars had a “great practice at the Patty Center” on the University of Alaska campus earlier on Thursday.
Journey Miller gave SoHi the early 1-0 lead just 3:45 into the game with help from Brantley, but North Pole scored less than two minutes later to tie it up with a goal from Cody Frarey, who finished with a hat trick. Frarey capped his three-goal night with an empty-netter with eight seconds to play.
Frarey put North Pole ahead early in the second, then Kole Kuykendall added a third goal 53 seconds later for a 3-1 lead.
From there, the Stars rallied, starting with a Wyatt Medcoff scoring shot with 9:37 left in the second.
A wild third period netted 10 combined penalties for 20 minutes of sitting in the sin bin.
Stars goaltender Corbin Wirz, who Walton called the his team’s MVP for the game, stopped 25 shots.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at email@example.com. Clarion staff contributed to this report.
Big Lake Lions Christmas Classic
Thursday, Big Lake Recreation Center
Kenai Central 6, Palmer 5
Kenai 2 2 2 —6
Palmer 1 3 1 —5
First period — 1. Kenai- Mese (unassisted) 9:50; 2. Palmer- Keil (Wilson) 7:28; 3. Kenai- Mese (O’Brien, Stanton) 5:17.
Second period — 4. Palmer- Keil (Appell) 14:43; 5. Palmer- Wilson (Keil) 9:37; 6. Palmer- Avezac (Thiesen, Hooks) 8:20; 7. Kenai- Mese (O’Brien, Knutson) 6:40; 8. Kenai- Knutson (O’Brien, Mese) 4:46.
Third period — 9. Kenai- Mese (O’Brien, Beiser) 13:39; 10. Palmer- Scully (Wilson, Keil) 9:14; 11. Kenai- O’Brien- (unassisted) 1:33.
Shots on goal: Kenai 10-11-8—29, Palmer 16-13-16—45; Saves: Kenai- Tree 15-11-15—39, Palmer- Winder 8-9-6—23.
Thursday, Polar Ice Arena
Patriots 5, Stars 3
Soldotna 1 1 1 —3
North Pole 1 2 2 —5
First period — 1. Soldotna, Miller (Brantley), 3:45; 2. North Pole, Frarey (Groesbeck), 5:02. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. North Pole, Frarey (Siebels, Peters), :38; 4. North Pole, Kuykendall (Siebels, Groesbeck), 1:31; 5. Soldotna, Medcoff (Kline, Brantley), 5:23. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; North Pole 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 6. Soldotna, Brantley (unassisted), :02; 7. North Pole, Siebels (Crutcher), 12:31; 8. North Pole, Frarey (unassisted), EN, 14:52. Penalties — Soldotna 3 for 6:00; North Pole 7 for 14:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 4-17-10—31; North Pole 15-3-12—30.