Kenai Central goalie Evyn Witts makes a save on Soldotna’s Ezekiel Miller as Kenai’s Reagan Graves and Logan Mese defend Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central goalie Evyn Witts makes a save on Soldotna’s Ezekiel Miller as Kenai’s Reagan Graves and Logan Mese defend Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai, Soldotna ready for state hockey tourney

Both the Kenai Central and Soldotna hockey teams will chase the first state titles in school history Thursday through Saturday at the Division II state hockey tournament at the Patty Center in Fairbanks.

The Stars have been at state every year since Kenai, Soldotna and Homer were moved to Division II for the 2018-2019 season. The Stars were runner-up in 2020 and finished sixth last season.

The Kardinals have been to state the last three years, finishing fourth in 2020 and 2022.

Homer won state titles in 2020 and 2021, but the Mariners do not have a team this season.

Houston is the defending champion and tourney favorite with the top seed. The Hawks are 21-1-1 this season.

The Stars finished second in the Railbelt Conference to earn their berth. Soldotna is seeded third at state and opens against No. 6 Monroe Catholic today at 5 p.m.

“To me, Monroe has a good line and a half and can bring it,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “Nobody is looking past Monroe.”

Zurfluh said SoHi’s confidence is running high after a three-game trip to the Matanuska-Susitna valleys from Jan. 19 to 21. SoHi lost to Palmer, the Railbelt champ and No. 2 seed at state, 3-2 in overtime, then defeated Division I opponents Colony and Wasilla.

“We know to win state, we’ll have to win three really tough games,” Zurfluh said. “We tried to do that that weekend — make it a mini state tournament.”

Soldotna’s regular season ended Friday when senior Silas Larsen took a hit in the open ice midway through the second period against Kenai. After Larsen was removed from the ice on a stretcher and taken to the Central Peninsula Hospital, the game was suspended with the score 1-1.

Zurfluh said Larsen had a sore neck, without a concussion or any broken bones. The senior skated in practice Monday and Zurfluh was optimistic he could play Thursday.

The coach said getting Larsen back would be big.

“The key for us is to be able to keep all our guns blazing and run four lines,” Zurfluh said.

Larsen teams with Boone Theiler and Jace Appelhans for the team’s top scoring line. The coach also said the line of Gehret Medcoff, Marshall Deraeve and Daniel Heath also have been doing some scoring.

“The other two lines are getting their job done by keeping things simple,” Zurfluh said.

The coach said senior defenseman Aiden Burcham and senior goalie Jackson Purcell will be key to keeping the puck out of the net.

The Kardinals, the No. 5 seed, open play against Juneau-Douglas, the No. 4 seed, at noon.

The Crimson Bears took third in the Railbelt, while Kenai was fourth. Kenai lost 4-2 and 3-1 at Juneau on Dec. 2 and 3, but the Kardinals were a much better team after the holiday break. Kenai picked up a pair of victories over Colony, as well as getting wins against Service and Palmer.

Kenai Central head coach Scott Shelden said the Kardinals were having trouble putting three periods together before the break.

“Since we got back on the ice in January, we’ve been putting three-period games together,” Shelden said. “We had some success in January and we’re feeling good with where we are at.”

Kenai junior forward Logan Mese has been a nightmare for opponents all season.

“He’s our big-time points leader,” Shelden said. “He competes so hard in games and practices. He leads us.”

Mese teams with junior Avery Martin and senior captain Landen Cialek to form a potent line. Cialek is one of 11 seniors the Kardinals honored on senior night.

Fellow senior forwards Josiah Petty, Zach Rogerss and Ky Calvert are sprinkled on the second and third lines for Kenai.

The Kardinals put out four defenders in seniors Reagan Graves and Caden Warren, plus Ethan Tree and Sawyer Vann.

“Obviously, each plays half the game, so they all contribute big time,” Shelden said.

Early in the week, Shelden had not decided if goalie Seanna Swanson or Evyn Witt would start. Both had big performances after the break, with Witt defeating Colony twice and Swanson shutting out Palmer.

Shelden said that, just like last season, this team has been great to work with, supporting each other and showing up on time.

“We’ve had a really fun season and we’re looking forward to this,” Shelden said.

Division II state hockey tournament

at Patty Center, Fairbanks

Thursday’s games

Game 1 — Houston vs. Delta, 2:30 p.m.

Game 2 — Juneau vs. Kenai, noon

Game 3 — Soldotna vs. Monroe, 5 p.m.

Game 4 — Palmer vs. North Pole, 7:30 p.m.

Friday’s games

Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, noon

Game 6 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2:30 p.m.

Game 7 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5 p.m.

Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s games

4th/6th place — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, noon

3rd/5th place — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 2:30 p.m.

Championship — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 5 p.m.

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