KPHA U-14 girls squad makes history by winning Pacific District Tournament

It took three overtimes and 40 years, but the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association has finally won a Pacific District Tournament.

The breakthrough was provided by KPHA’s Under-14 Tier II girls comp team March 8 in San Jose, California. KPHA topped the Palmer Pioneers 3-2 in triple overtime to take the tournament title.

“The difference for our team is that every team has ups and downs, and some issues,” head coach Ted Barton said. “We would stay on top of those types of things and work through them, and the players all believe in each other and support each other.”

The win moves the Ice Hawks to the USA Hockey National Tournament in Lansing, Michigan, from March 26 to 30.

KPHA squads have been to the national tournament before, but have never gotten there by winning the Pacific District Tournament.

When an Under-16 Midget team made nationals, it was in a time when the Alaska champion automatically made nationals.

Last season, Barton led a Under-16 Tier II girls team to nationals, but there was only one other team competing at that level in the Pacific District. When that California team decided not to travel to the tourney in Anchorage, KPHA earned an automatic pass to nationals.

There was nothing automatic about this tournament, where the Ice Hawks had to play each of the four other squads in the tourney in round-robin action, then win a tight championship.

“We were not favored to win,” Barton said. “It was just an amazing tournament.”

The Ice Hawks started the tournament with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Anchorage North Stars on March 5.

“That first game was a game we had to win,” Barton said.

Leah Johnson, assisted by Anna Shelden, got the Ice Hawks a 1-0 lead in the first period, but Anchorage came back to tie the game in the third period.

With 1 minute, 9 seconds, left in the first 10-minute overtime, Shelden scored for the crucial win. Jayce Lakshas made 16 saves for KPHA in net.

Also on March 5, KPHA cruised past the Alaska Icebreakers 6-0. Leah Johnson led the Ice Hawks in the game with two goals and two assists, while Alison McCarron, Brianna Stanton, Brenna McCarron and Journey Miller also had tallies. Mychaela Pitta, Miller and Shelden added assists.

Mackenize Powell made five saves for the shutout.

In the first of two games on March 7, KPHA lost 3-1 to the Alaska Lady Pioneers. Palmer took a 2-0 lead into the third period, but with 2:12 left Sierra Longfellow scored for a 2-1 game. But Palmer would seal the game with 17 seconds left with a goal. Powell made 18 saves in the loss.

But later that day, KPHA came back to defeat the Anaheim Lady Ducks 3-0 to earn a spot in the championship game.

Late in the first period, Cheyenne Everett, assisted by Shelden and Longfellow, and Shelden had goals to give KPHA some breathing room. Shelden scored again unassisted in the third period to wrap the win. Jayce Lakshas had seven saves for the win.

That left KPHA with a rematch with Palmer in the title game.

“We knew we had a shot, but Palmer was clearly the favored team,” Barton said. “They were rolling through the tournament.”

Barton said Palmer knew KPHA’s skaters and tendencies, making it hard to break the puck out of the defensive zone with the pass. He gave credit to Rick Pitta, who played for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and is Mychaela’s father, for suggesting that some of KPHA’s better skaters just try and skate the puck out of the zone.

Pitta, assisted by Kylan Lakshas, and Alison McCarron scored in the first period to give KPHA a 2-0 lead. But Palmer came back with goals in the second and third periods.

Then came the three overtimes.

“By the end, the players on both teams were so tired we were just waiting for a fatal mistake to happen,” Barton said.

With 4:12 left in the third OT, Brianna Stanton chased the puck into the corner. Palmer’s mistake came when two defenders, instead of one, followed her into the corner. Stanton got the puck to Alison McCarron out front for the historic goal.

“She just buried it,” Barton said. “It was amazing.”

Jayce Lakshas made 34 saves for the victory.

Barton said it took so much to pull the title together. Ashley McDonald, 11, and Kayla Norbeck, 12, had to move up to U-14 just to make the team happen. Brenna McCarron, Alison McCarron and Pitta had to join from Homer.

And assistant coaches Chad Longfellow, Dohn Cho and Scott Shelden, and managers Tammy Miller and Ronette Stanton, had to put in countless hours.

“I give a lot of credit to the parents, and I’m lucky to have the coaching staff I have,” Barton said. “It takes a lot to get a team like this ready to be competitive.”

The squad will hold a steak feed fundraising dinner and silent auction Saturday at 5 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna. The cost is $20 per ticket. To get tickets, stop by Dan’s TV and Appliance in Kenai, or call Tammy Miller at 398-6667.

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