An early goal helped inject Kenai Central with some energy, but by the end of Friday night, Palmer still held authority in a 5-2 Railbelt Conference win at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.
The host Kardinals then finished the regular season with an 8-2 victory over Railbelt foe Houston on Saturday. It’s Kenai’s second victory of the season, gives the Kards a fifth-place finish in the conference and keeps them alive for an at-large berth to the state tournament.
Kenai scored just 32 seconds in Friday on a Tucker Vann goal, providing an ideal spark for a team that finished 2-8 in the Railbelt.
“It was a big morale booster,” said Kenai head coach Jacob Newton of the quick score. “Even going down after that, we showed we can still do it.”
Vann’s early goal was the first of his prep career at KCHS, said Newton, and had Kenai leading against a state qualifier, but the Moose answered back with two goals in the opening period to take a lead they never gave up.
Darian Wilson netted the go-ahead goal with 3:19 left in the first and added a second score later in the contest to lead the Moose, who also got goals from Alex Nelius, Owen Hayes and Nathan Hooks.
Nate Beiser also scored for Kenai.
Palmer defeated Kenai 8-1 earlier in the year, but Friday’s game remained close heading into the third period at 3-1.
“Kenai showed up to play,” said Palmer coach Dean Wilson. “They had plenty of opportunities, but you’ve gotta keep pushing.”
Palmer was playing its backup goalie Jackson Heard, who staved off 28 of 30 shots in a sterling effort in net.
Kenai goaltender Carson Koppes had 39 saves on 44 shots.
At 4-5 in conference play, Palmer is about guaranteed an at-large bid to the Div. II state tournament next week. Soldotna clinched the top seed from the conference Thursday with an overtime win over Palmer, while Juneau and Homer have taken the second and third spots.
A combined 20 total penalties defined the game, including a five-minute major for an elbow that Palmer had to kill, starting late in the second period.
The Moose began the third frame with 3:10 of the penalty left, but held strong as Kenai struggled to string together enough passes to put pucks on net.
After killing off the penalty, the Moose took charge, scoring twice in a 36-second span to take a 5-1 lead. Wilson notched his second goal on a power play with 7:52 left, getting a wraparound rebound to score, then Hooks was credited with the fifth Palmer goal of the night on a badly misplayed puck by Koppes, whose deflection of a puck sent across the rink skated the wrong way and into the net with 7:16 remaining in the game.
Beiser scored directly off a faceoff with under five minutes remaining to give Kenai some late energy, but a four-goal deficit simply proved too much.
Wilson’s first power-play goal in the first period came immediately after the Moose went on the man advantage for a roughing call by Kenai. Wilson collected the puck from the faceoff scrum and sent a slapshot to top shelf netting to put Palmer ahead.
Alex Nelius had tied it for Palmer at the eight-minute mark of the first period, slapping the puck from a good distance following a faceoff.
Kenai 8, Houston 2
The Hawks scored the first goal of the game, but Kenai had the next six to take control of the game.
After Isaiah Squires scored in the first period, Beiser, Zach Burnett, Vann, Jacob Begich, Logan Dosko and Beiser again scored before Squires lit the lamp again in the third. Travis Verkuilen and Jordyn Knudsen closed the game with goals for Kenai.
Carson Koppes and Trent Duncan combined to make 30 saves for Kenai, while Kevin Lewis stopped 33 for Houston, which finished winless in the Railbelt and is eliminated from postseason play.
Homer 6, Palmer 1
The host Mariners closed the Railbelt regular season by blowing out the Moose in the third period.
The game was tied entering the third, but Homer had a 4-1 lead less than three minutes into the final frame.
Ethan Pitzman had four goals to lead Homer, while Tyler Gilliland had a goal and two assists, and Isaiah Nevak had two assists. Kazden Stineff had the final tally for Homer.
Hunter Warren stopped 31 for Homer, while Tiernan O’Rourke had 29 saves for Palmer.
Moose 5, Kardinals 2
Palmer 2 1 2 —5
Kenai 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Kenai, Vann (Knudson, Begich), :32; 2. Palmer, Nelius (Hayes, Weaver), 8:00; 3. Palmer, Wilson (Sturdivant), 11:41. Penalties — Kenai 3 for 6:00; Palmer 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Palmer, Hayes (Weaver), SH, 4:37. Penalties — Kenai 5 for 13:00; Palmer 4 for 13:00.
Third period — 5. Palmer, Wilson (Armstrong, Nelius), PP, 7:08; 6. Palmer, Hooks (Biddle, Hayes), 7:44; 7. Kenai, Beiser (unassisted), 10:03. Penalties — Kenai 3 for 9:00; Palmer 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Palmer 14-16-14—44; Kenai 11-9-10—30.
Goalies — Palmer, Heard (30 shots, 28 saves); Kenai, Koppes (44 shots, 39 saves).
Mariners 6, Moose 1
Palmer 0 1 0 — 1
Homer 0 1 5 — 6
First period — none. Penalties — Palmer 3 for 6:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Palmer, Z. Nelius (Wilson, A. Nelius), 1:08; 2. Homer, Pitzman (Nevak), 14:14. Penalties — Palmer 4 for 14:00; Homer 4 for 11:00.
Third period — 3. Homer, Pitzman (un.), :06; 4. Homer, Pitzman (Gilliland), 1:45; 5. Homer, Stineff (Gilliland), 2:59; 6. Homer, Gilliland (Nevak), 6:00; 7. Homer, Pitzman (un.), 7:49. Penalties — Palmer 2 for 4:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Palmer 13-6-13—32; Homer 12-7-16—35.
Goalies — Palmer, O’Rourke (35 shots, 29 saves); Homer, Warren (32 shots, 31 saves).
Kardinals 8, Hawks 2
Houston 1 0 1 — 2
Kenai 2 3 3 – 8
First period — 1. Houston, Squires (un.), 7:21; 2. Kenai, Beiser (Harvey), 12:48; 3. Kenai, Burnett (un.), 13:59. Penalties — Houston 1 for 2:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai, Vann (Knudsen), 3:00; 5. Kenai, Begich (Burnett, Maxson), 6:29; 6. Kenai, Dosko (Beiser, Verkuilen), 8:10. Penalties — Houston 2 for 4:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai, Beiser (Harvey), 4:17; 8. Houston, Squires (un.), 6:54; 9. Kenai, Verkuilen (un.), 11:45; 10. Kenai, Knudsen (Burnett), 13:10. Penalties — Houston 3 for 6:00; Kenai 4 for 11:00.
Shots on goal — Houston 10-9-13—32; Kenai 13-13-15—41.
Goalies — Kenai, Koppes, Duncan (32 shots, 30 saves); Houston, Lewis (41 shots, 33 saves).