The Soldotna Stars took a big first step in pursuit of a state title with a 10-0 throttling of the Delta Huskies on Thursday at the Division II state hockey championships at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla.
The lopsided victory advanced SoHi into the tournament semifinals, where the Stars will face the Palmer Moose today at 5 p.m., with the winner advancing to Saturday night’s championship final.
In other first-round games, the Homer Mariners also secured a semifinal spot with a dominant win, prevailing 12-1 over Glennallen. The Mariners will face Juneau/Tri-Valley tonight at 7:30 p.m.
For a school that had never won a first-round state contest, SoHi looked the part of a veteran crew, with eight different players reaching the scoring column. Galen Brantley III and Lucas Kline scored two goals each, and overall the Stars enjoyed a one-sided, 43-7 shots advantage.
Trying to shake off a sickness that’s taken hold of several players, the Stars took awhile to find their stride, but Brantley III said the slow start did not concern him as SoHi looks ahead to Friday’s semifinal against a darkhorse Palmer team.
“It usually takes a game to get the lead out of the legs,” Brantley III said. “We’ve just got to make sure we start off (Friday) the way we finished this game.”
Corbin Wirz and Kenzie Powell shared the shutout in goal for Soldotna, with Wirz stopping all seven shots the Huskies took in the first two periods and Powell cleaning up in the third period with no official shot on goal.
It took nearly 10 minutes, but Jose Montague got the scoring started with a top shelf strike from an unguarded position from the playoff circles.
From there, it only took 31 seconds for a second goal, this one another high shot from Lucas Kline that zipped past the left shoulder of Delta goaltender Robert Hanson.
Brantley and Wyatt Medcoff added two more scores in the final three minutes of the first frame for a 4-0 SoHi advantage. An 18-3 shots advantage also told the story of SoHi’s puck possession.
“As a coach you want to be perfect,” said head coach Indy Walton. “It’s always the little things that bug you as a coach, and I guess that’s what drives us to be perfect.”
With such a one-sided contest, the tendency for the intensity level to drop can be a worry as teams advance to the next day, where bigger and better competition is waiting.
Walton, however, isn’t worried about SoHi coming out slow a second day in a row.
“Our team tends to rise to the occasion,” Walton said. “They understand the importance of the next game. It could be their last.”
The 4-0 lead stood for most of the second period as SoHi moved the puck in a game of keepaway from Delta, but the Stars ended up scoring twice more in the final 3:54 of the frame, first on an unguarded look by Sam Skolnick and then on a point-blank tap in from Brantley.
“We tried to hold back and do as much passing as we could,” Walton said. “Our intentions weren’t to score a ton of goals, it was just to control the puck and shoot when the time was right.”
SoHi tacked on four more in the third period as Kline recorded his second of the game midway through the period, then was joined by Ethan Yeager, David Aley and Cole Stubblefield.
Homer also started sluggishly in its first-round contest against Glennallen, but a dozen goals easily made up for that.
“The first five minutes were horrendous,” said Homer head coach Steve Nevak. “The kids were nervous, but that’s normal.”
Tyler Gilliland tallied four goals for the Mariners, who outshot the Panthers 55-5 total. Homer also got two goals apiece from Ethan Pitzman and Aiden Ross.
Homer was competing in its first ever state tournament game in program history, and Gilliland felt the Mariners came out apprehensively.
“I don’t know, I think we had nerves going into state,” Gilliland said. “Once we started scoring, it just kept going.”
Eventually, the offense began clicking, and Gilliland found a way around Glennallen goaltender Nikki Friendshuh at the 8:37 mark of the first period, redirecting a high shot up from Tucker Weston into the net for a Homer lead.
Aiden Ross and Pitzman tallied two more for the Mariners in the final five minutes of the period to put Homer up 3-0 at the first intermission.
“Passing, working hard, cheering each other on from the bench,” Gilliland said about what changed the flow of the game. “Just keeping the energy up.”
By the time the second period dropped, the Mariners were in a good flow. It took just 55 seconds for Ross to score in the second, using nearly an identical technique to score as he did his first time, racing up the left boards and pocketing the puck into the net above the goalie’s shoulders.
Homer scored three more times in the first 6:50 of the second period, building a massive 7-0 lead with goals from Gilliland, Kazden Stineff and Pitzman.
“The discussion after the first period was setting the bar high,” Nevak said. “We play to us, we don’t play down to them. I think that’s what we did in the final two periods.”
Gilliland completed his hat trick with 2:59 remaining in the second, and Karl Wickstrom tacked on another Homer goal to put the Mariners up 9-0.
Glennallen ruined the Mariners shutout with 1:23 left to the end of the second on a goal from Aisake Finau.
Isaiah Nevak, Bergen Knudsen and Gilliland finished off the scoring binge in the third period.
Homer’s biggest test of the season now stares the Mariners in the face, as Homer lost a pair of road games to Juneau two weeks ago.
“We know we left something on the table there,” Nevak said. “We’re a much better team than the scoreboard showed … and when we left Juneau, we said we weren’t letting that happen again.”
Div. II state hockey championships
Stars 10, Huskies 0
Delta 0 0 0 —0
Soldotna 4 2 4 —10
First period — 1. Soldotna, J. Montague (Kline), 9:52; 2. Soldotna, Kline (Stubblefield), 10:23; 3. Soldotna, Brantley (A. Montague), 12:18; 4. Soldotna, Medcoff (Brantley), PP, 13:58. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Delta 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. Soldotna, Skolnick (A. Montague), 11:06; 6. Soldotna, Brantley (unassisted), 14:33. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Soldotna, Kline (A. Montague, Yeager), 8:03; 8. Soldotna, Yeager (Nye, Brantley), 8:29; 9. Soldotna, Aley (A. Montague, Schmelzenbach), 10:50; 10. Soldotna, Stubblefield (Schmelzenbach), 14:35. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Delta 3 for 17:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 18-18-7—43; Delta 3-4-0—7.
Goalies — Soldotna, Wirz (7 shots, 7 saves), Powell (0 shots, 0 saves); Delta, Hanson (43 shots, 33 saves).
Mariners 12, Panthers 1
Glennallen 0 1 0 —1
Homer 3 6 3 —12
First period — 1. Homer, Gilliland (Weston, Reutov), 8:37; 2. Homer, Ross (Amo), 10:16; 3. Homer, Pitzman (Reutov, Gilliland), 3:22. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00; Glennallen 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Homer, Ross (Otis), :55; 5. Homer, Gilliland (Nevak), PP, 2:25; 6. Homer, Stineff (Otis), 4:46; 7. Homer, Pitzman (Gilliland), 6:50; 8. Homer, Gilliland (Pitzman), 12:01; 9. Homer, Wickstrom (Green, Reutov), 13:10; 10. Glennallen, Finau (Matthews, Young), 13:37. Penalties — Homer 2 for 4:00; Glennallen 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 11. Homer, Gilliland (Pitzman), :14; 12. Homer, Nevak (Ross, Shafford), 11:42; 13. Homer, Knudson (unassisted), 13:39. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00; Glennallen 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 15-16-12—43; Glennallen 2-1-1—4.