The Soldotna hockey team defeated Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale 2-1 on Saturday to win the Division II state hockey tournament at the Patty Center in Fairbanks.
The Stars (13-6-3) won all three of their tournament games by a goal to win the first state title in school history in their second appearance in the final. Soldotna lost the final to Homer in 2020.
“It feels so good,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “It’s unbelievable. All four coaches are SoHi guys. We bleed blue and white. We’re so beside ourselves.”
Zurfluh played for the Stars for three seasons from 1991 to 1994 before going to play junior hockey. Assistants Dagen Walton, Wyatt Medcoff and Lee Green also skated for Soldotna.
“The player of the game is definitely my coaches,” Zurfluh said. “They put in the work and made the sacrifice by leaving their families. The work they put in preparation getting the guys ready was second to none.”
Soldotna was 2-0 against the Crimson Bears this season headed into the final, but had to fight back from behind.
With 9:37 left in the first period, Dylan Sowa scored for Juneau on an assist from Karter Kohlhase.
Zurfluh said the goal was unlucky for Soldotna, bouncing in off defenseman Aiden Burcham’s skate.
“We kept our composure,” Zurfluh said. “We got down by a crappy goal. They threw it in front off Burcham’s skate.
“We never let up. We continued pressuring their goalie and he was amazing. He didn’t give up any for free.”
Jace Appelhans tied it with 4:48 left in the second period on an assist from Silas Larsen.
Then with 1:17 left in the second, Boone Theiler scored the game-winner on a power play. Appelhans had the assist.
Appelhans ended the tournament with four goals and an assist. Linemate Larsen had four assists, while fellow linemate Theiler had an assist and goal. The Appelhans-Theiler-Larsen line scored five of SoHi’s six goals in the tournament.
“Of course those guys are super strong,” Zurfluh said of his top line. “The unsung heroes are people like Zeke Miller and Aiden Stinnett. Those are guys nobody talks about. That top line doesn’t get anywhere without guys like that helping them out.”
Zurfluh said the Marshall Deraeve-Gehret Medcoff-Daniel Heath line was huge despite getting one goal in the tournament. The coach said the line created constant turnovers and pressure, and Deraeve and Heath were vital on the penalty kill.
“The effort and heart those guys put in was unbelievable,” Zurfluh said.
Zurfluh also said the Dawson Lockwood-Miller-Blake Bucho line did its job by playing dump and chase and keeping the Crimson Bears off the board.
The coach added that Burcham led the defense by playing 30 of the 45 minutes, and Jackson Purcell took care of whatever got through.
Purcell made 14 saves for the Stars, while Mason Sooter stopped 37 for the Crimson Bears.
“Props to Juneau,” Zurfluh said. “They’re not a very skilled team, but their heart and work ethic is second to none. That’s what beat Houston.”
Houston finished a 23-2-1 season by defeating Palmer 4-0 for third place Saturday. The Hawks were upset by the Crimson Bears in the semifinals.
Although each victory was by a goal, SoHi won the shot count in each game, beating Juneau 39-15, Palmer 34-14 and Monroe Catholic 26-18.
By winning the Division II tournament, the Stars get a spot in the Division I tournament, starting Thursday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla. Soldotna earned the second seed and will face No. 7 West at 11 a.m.
“We’re pumped,” Zurfluh said. “We’ve got such a great group right now.”
Kenai Central 3, North Pole 2
The Kardinals (10-14-1) got two goals from Avery Martin and came from behind twice to take fourth place for the third time in the last four years.
“We played well today,” Kenai head coach Scott Shelden said. “We were down 2-1 after the first but didn’t give up any more after that.
“It was a great game. Tight, exciting, with great energy from the crowd.”
In 2021, Kenai lost on the first day of state and won on the second day. That normally would have put the Kards in the fourth-place game, but there was no fourth-place game that year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
North Pole jumped on top with 12:24 left in the first when Kagen Kramer scored unassisted.
With 9:09 left in the first, Martin answered right back with a short-handed goal assisted by Logan Mese. With 6:29 left in the first, Peyton Davis gave the Patriots the lead again.
Shelden said Kenai played the way it had been playing after the holiday break, when the Kards scored some impressive wins.
“Thursday we came out flat, Friday we came out flat,” Shelden said. “I wouldn’t say we came out flat today. We just stuck with it.”
Martin tied it for the Kardinals with 2:43 left in the second period, with assists going to Mese and Landen Cialek.
Shelden said the top line continues to produce, led by Mese.
“They were gorgeous goals,” Shelden said. “They definitely have some chemistry. They are a fun line to watch and came up with two big-time goals.”
Mese, a sophomore, was announced as the MVP of the Northern Lights Conference on Saturday.
“He’s earned the respect of everyone in the league,” Shelden said. “He’s got super quick feet, a super tough compete level, and he had a great season.”
Shelden said goalie Evyn Witt and defenders Ethan Tree, Reagan Graves, Sawyer Vann and Caden Warren really tightened up in the second period, allowing just five shots. The backchecking also was good. Shelden said it was key to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole.
The game-winner came with 11:48 left in the game, and it didn’t come from Kenai’s top line of Mese, Cialek and Martin.
Zach Rogerss won an offensive zone faceoff to Ethan Tree at the point. Tree put it on net and William Howard tapped it in. Shelden said Tobias Petty provided a crucial screen on the play.
“Toby Petty was standing in front, just like we teach him,” Shelden said.
Daniel Redy made 38 saves for North Pole, while Witt stopped 22 for the Kardinals.
With nine seniors leaving the team, Shelden said the end of the season is always bittersweet.
“It’s just hard to say goodbye, but I’m excited for those guys,” Shelden said. “We’re a tight, close team.”
Northern Lights All-Conference Awards
MVP — Logan Mese, Kenai.
Coach of the Year — Rusty Belanger, Palmer.
All-Conference — Logan Mese, Kenai; Jace Appelhans, Soldotna; Bryce Armstrong, Palmer; Caden Warren, Kenai; Anna Dale, Juneau; Stuart McQuillin, Palmer; Xander Logan, Palmer; Aiden Burcham, Soldotna; Boone Theiler, Soldotna; Noah Coulter, Kodiak; Landen Cialek, Kenai.
Honorable mention — Caden Johns, Juneau; Silas Larsen, Soldotna; Zander Anderson, Palmer; Camden Kovach, Juneau; Jakub Papezik, Palmer; Theron Glover, Kodiak; Jackson Purcell, Soldotna; Rowan Wyszkowski, Kodiak.
Kardinals 3, Patriots 2
North Pole 2 0 0 —2
Kenai 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Noth Pole, Kramer (un.), 2:36; 2. Kenai, Martin (Mese), sh, 5:51; 3. North Pole, Davis (Jusczu), 8:31. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai, Martin (Mese, Cialek), 12:17. Penalties — North Pole 3 for 6:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai, Howard (Tree, Rogerss), 3:12. Penalties — North Pole 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — North Pole 10-5-9—24; Kenai 12-16-13—41.
Goalies — North Pole, Redy (41 shots, 38 saves); Kenai, Witt (24 shots, 22 saves).
Stars 2, Crimson Bears 1
Juneau 1 0 0 —1
Soldotna 0 2 0 —2
First period — 1. Juneau, Sowa (Kohlhase), 5:23. Penalties — Juneau 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Soldotna, Appelhans (Larsen), 10:12; 3. Soldotna, Theiler (Appelhans), pp, 13:43. Penalties — Juneau 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Juneau 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Juneau 5-8-2—15; Soldotna 11-18-10—39.
Goalies — Juneau, Sooter (39 shots, 37 saves); Soldotna, Purcell (15 shots, 14 saves).