The high school hockey regular season ended Saturday at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility with Soldotna coming back from a 2-0 deficit for a 5-3 victory.
The season featured close competition between Homer, Kenai and Soldotna. If a Feb. 6 exhibition victory by the Stars over the Mariners is included in the standings, Kenai finishes at 4-2, while the Stars are 4-3 and Homer is 2-5. Three of Homer’s losses came in overtime.
All three teams are still alive for the Division II state championship. Kenai and Soldotna are in the tournament starting Thursday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla, while Homer will have to win a play-in game.
Kenai was 2-0 against the Stars heading into Saturday. The Kards jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second period on goals from Daniel Shelden and Aiden Milburn.
Dylan Walton, who finished with a hat trick, and Dylan Dahlgren, who had three assists, were able to lead the Stars back.
Walton scored his first goal with 2:17 left in the second period. Silas Larsen and Walton would score before the end of the period for a 3-2 lead.
Soldotna coach Indy Walton said the scoring spurt at the end of the second gave his team momentum back after Kenai goalie Jackson Cross took the wind out of SoHi’s sails with some great first-period saves.
Andrew Arthur pushed the lead to 4-2 for SoHi before Cooper Stock made it 4-3 with 4:15 left.
Coach Walton said his goalie, Ayden See, knew he was out of position on Stock’s goal, but See shut the Kards down the rest of the way. Walton, assisted by Dahlgren, scored on the empty net to end it.
See had 27 saves, while Cross had 17.
“That was big for us,” Walton said. “This was the last time for them playing against Kenai, their rivals. There was a lot of emotion in the game.”
Walton said it’s hard to believe the season started only a short while ago on Jan. 22. He gave credit to parents and administrators for putting in all the work to make a season happen that had once been in doubt.
Homer 3, Soldotna 2
In what Soldotna head coach Indy Walton called a goaltender showdown, the visiting Mariners ended their regular season at 2-5 (with one loss being an exhibition).
Homer defeated Soldotna for the first time after three previous defeats — two in overtime and one of which was an exhibition.
Soldotna honored seniors Cole Stubblefield, Josh Montague, Gavin Haakenson, Spencer Kapp, Dylan Walton and Dace Gardner (a graduating junior).
With his son being a senior, coach Indy Walton also said he is hanging up his whistle after this season.
“It’s been 23 years coaching 30 different hockey teams,” Walton said. “It’s time for someone with a little more energy to take over.”
Walton said he has been coaching this group of seniors for six or seven years.
“It definitely pulls at your heart strings,” he said.
Kazden Stineff had two goals and an assist for the Mariners. He had the lone goal of the first period to get the visitors off to a good start.
“Homer came out right from the get-go,” Walton said. “They were beating us to loose pucks.”
In the second period, Andrew Arthur knotted up the game before Stineff struck again with 10:34 left in the second for a Homer lead.
The Mariners lead stretched to 3-1 with 13:33 left in the game when Casey Otis lit the lamp.
With 5:33 left in the game, Aiden Burcham cut the deficit to 3-2 on a power-play goal, but Homer goalie Keegan Strong kept a clean sheet the rest of the way.
“It was really a back-and-forth game,” Walton said. “Our players weren’t shooting the puck enough. They were trying to get the right shot.”
Walton also said it was a classy game with a lot of sportsmanship.
Both Strong and SoHi’s Ayden See made 26 saves.
“We tested Strong and he came up big as usual,” Walton said.
Mariners 3, Stars 2
Homer 1 1 1 —3
Soldotna 0 1 1 —2
First period — 1. Homer, Stineff (Owen, Arno), 14:51. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Soldotna, Arthur (O’Lena, Montague), 3:43; 3. Homer, Stineff (Otis, Banks), 4:26. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Homer, Otis (Stineff), 1:27; 5. Soldotna, Burcham (Larsen, Walton), 9:27. Penalties — Homer 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Goalies — Homer, Strong (28 shots, 26 saves); Soldotna, See (29 shots, 26 saves).
Stars 5, Kardinals 3
Soldotna 0 3 2 —5
Kenai 0 2 1 —3
First period — none. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai, Shelden (Cialek, Vann), 6:21; 2. Kenai, Milburn (Wehrstein), 6:57; 3. Soldotna, Walton (Larsen, Dahlgren), 12:43; 4. Soldotna, Larsen (Kapp, Haakenson), 13:47; 5. Soldotna, Walton (Dahlgren), 17:57. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2; Kenai 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 6. Soldotna, Arthur (Burcham), 5:28; 7. Kenai, Stock (Cialek), 10:45; 8. Soldotna, Walton (Dahlgren), en, 14:20.