Soldotna won the first state hockey title in school history Saturday at the Division II state tournament at the Patty Center in Fairbanks.
Now the Stars have a chance to make more history.
By winning the Division II title, the Stars qualified for the Division I tournament today through Saturday at the Menard Center in Wasilla.
A team from the Kenai Peninsula has never won a first-round game at the Division I state tournament. Also, since Division II state champs have been able to play in the Division I tournament starting in 2019, no Division II team has even won a game at Division I state. Kenai, Soldotna and Homer played Division I hockey through 2018.
“I still kick myself every morning, I can’t believe we won it,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said of the Division II title. “I look at my board, planning my next practice, planning my next move, and I can’t believe we just won it.
“My brain has a hard time adjusting. I’ve been doing this 20 years, coaching youth hockey and comp hockey, and this was quite a reward.”
The Stars (13-6-3) are seeded second in the Division I tourney and take on No. 7 seed West (11-7-1) at 11 a.m. today.
Zurfluh said the No. 2 seed definitely came as a surprise.
“We kind of got a snicker out of it,” he said. “We caught a fair amount of flak in the media and especially social media for that. I thought for sure we’d be a 6, 7 or 8 seed, with 6 being a stretch. But we got the 2 seed and we’re the No. 3 overall team on MaxPreps, so way to go Stars.”
Zurfluh said the seeding means nothing once a tournament starts with a Chugiak coached by Rodney Wild, a Dimond coached by Dennis Sorenson and a West coached by Rob Larkey.
“These guys have all been coaching since I was playing high school hockey,” said Zurfluh, who played for Soldotna from 1991 to 1994 before leaving his senior season to play junior hockey. “I think about what they’ve done, how many times they’ve showed up at the rink for practice, how many times they’ve brought a team to this tournament.
“It’s an honor to play in this tournament.”
SoHi is 2-3-2 against Division I competition this season, including 0-2 against the powerhouse Cook Inlet Conference. The Stars lost a pair of games to Chugiak, which is 20-0-1 and the No. 1 seed. SoHi didn’t play West, but Kenai did, and lost by scores of 9-2 and 8-1.
“I’ve been doing a lot of video watching West and South, and they’re amazing hockey teams,” Zurfluh said. “I hope we come ready to play.”
The Stars have been on a roll lately, not only winning state, but winning their last two games against Division I teams — 7-5 against No. 3 seed Wasilla and 5-2 against No. 4 Colony.
“We have to show up with our work boots on and we have to be disciplined,” Zurfluh said. “We learned at the state tournament that discipline is key when we got into a hole right off the bat.
“We also have to make sure our systems are on point.”
Freshman Jace Appelhans had four goals and an assist at state, but Zurfluh knows it will take the whole team to get it done at Division I state. The depth of Division I teams is a reason even a Kenai Central team sporting future Kenai River Brown Bears captains Jed McGlasson and Brad Fusaro was not able to win in the first round at state.
Hot goaltending also is key, and Zurfluh hopes to keep getting that from Jackson Purcell.
Zurfluh said another disadvantage is SoHi wasn’t able to get a hotel in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys due to finding out late the Stars would be at Division I state. The Stars took a bus to Anchorage on Wednesday night, then will get up early to get to the Valley.
“It’s early morning and we haven’t played then in a while,” Zurfluh said. “There’s a few things that concern me. But the boys love the game. At practice tonight, they were showing so much joy and I’m so happy for them. It’s gonna be an awesome weekend win, lose or draw.”
Zurfluh also thanked assistants Lee Green, Dagen Walton and Wyatt Medcoff for the sacrifice they continue to make.
Kenai Peninsula to play in girls state tournament
The Stars are not the only team from the Kenai Peninsula to start play in a state tournament Thursday.
For the first time, the Kenai Peninsula will have a team at the Girls State High School Tournament. The tournament is hosted by the Anchorage Hockey Association at Ben Boeke Ice Arena.
Kenai Peninsula did not get the benefit of a regular season. The team is made of girls who played for Kenai Peninsula varsity and junior varsity teams this season.
Kenai Peninsula opens at 12:45 p.m. Thursday against South-Bartlett.
Division I state hockey tournament
at Menard Complex, Wasilla
Game 1 — Chugiak vs. Dimond, 4 p.m.
Game 2 — Colony vs. South, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3 — Wasilla vs. West Valley, 7 p.m.
Game 4 — Soldotna vs. West Anchorage, 11 a.m.
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11 a.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 4 p.m.
4th/6th place — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, noon
3rd/5th place — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 3 p.m.
Championship — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 6 p.m.
Girls High School State Tournament
Ben Boeke Ice Arena
Game 1 — Dimond-West gets a bye
Game 2 — Valley vs. Service-East, 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 — South-Bartlett vs. Kenai Peninsula, 12:45 p.m.
Game 4 — Fairbanks vs. Chugiak-Eagle River, 4:15 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 2 loser gets a bye
Game 6 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 12:45 p.m.
Game 7 — Dimond-West vs. Game 2 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 4:15 p.m.
4th/6th place — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11:45 a.m.
3rd/5th place — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 1:30 p.m.
Championship — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 3:15 p.m.