The Soldotna hockey team lost 5-4 to West on Thursday at the opening day of the Division I state hockey tournament at the Menard Center in Wasilla.
The Stars, who qualified for this tournament by winning the first Division II state title in school history, twice came back from deficits to tie, but were done in by a late power-play goal.
Kenai Peninsula schools SoHi, Kenai Central and Homer, which played at the Division I level prior to 2019, still have not won a first-round game at the Division I state hockey tournament.
The Stars, making their first appearance at the Division I state tournament since 2016, still have a chance to get their first win at Division I state since 2014, when the Stars finished sixth. SoHi also has a chance to be the first Division II team to win at Division I state since Division II teams became eligible for Division I state in 2019.
Soldotna plays Wasilla in the fourth-sixth place bracket today at 1:30 p.m. The Stars have tied and beaten Wasilla this season.
“We’ve got to reset as a hockey team,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “We’ve got two more hockey games we’d like to play at this tournament.”
Soldotna (13-7-3) jumped out front in the game when Jace Appelhans scored on assists from Silas Larsen and Mykah Booth with 9:41 left in the first period. With 1:25 left in the first, Austin Keim scored unassisted for West (12-7-1).
The Eagles really turned up the heat in the second period, outshooting Soldotna 24-10 on the way to a 44-22 advantage for the game. SoHi goalie Jackson Purcell, who had 39 saves, kept the Stars in the game. Michael Rush had 18 saves for West.
“Jackson played a heckuva hockey game,” Zurfluh said. “He saw 44 shots. We had been keeping it in the range of 15. All of a sudden he was facing a super offensive, strong hockey club.”
Zurfluh said the last couple of weeks may have caught up to the Stars in the second period. The last weekend of January, SoHi traveled to the Matanuska-Susitna valleys for three games. Then the first weekend of February, the Stars traveled to Fairbanks for three games at Division II state. Zurfluh said it’s no mistake a Division II team has not been able to break through in the Division I tournament yet.
“I’ve been asking a lot of these young men,” Zurfluh said.
The Eagles did jump out to a 3-1 lead in the second on a Paul Dittrich goal, assisted by Brayden Schell-Galliher and Henry Sholton, and a Sholton goal, assisted by Dittrich and Chase Thompson.
West then took a penalty and Soldotna took advantage by scoring a power-play goal to turn the momentum. Gehret Medcoff, assisted by Marshall DeRaeve and Aiden Stinnett, had the goal. A little over a minute later, Aiden Burcham, with help from Blake Bucho, had it tied at 3 headed to the final period.
West again took the lead with 7:39 left in the game, when Kaden Abbott scored on assists from Thompson and Richard Lissner.
The Eagles again opened the door with a penalty, and SoHi took advantage. After a Stars timeout, Appelhans scored with the extra man, with help from Larsen and Boone Theiler, to knot the game at 4 with 5:37 left.
Zurfluh said during the timeout that he told the team to not worry about setting up the power play. The coach wanted shots on net. Zurfluh said the West defensemen were really good and kept Soldotna from setting up in the zone all evening.
“West is a really good team with a lot of talent,” Zurfluh said.
SoHi then took a penalty and West called timeout to set up its power play. The plan worked when Abbott scored the game-winner on assists from Owen Melson and Jude Doniere.
South-Bartlett 1, Kenai Peninsula 0
The Kenai Peninsula girls lost in their debut at the Girls High School State Tournament at Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage on Thursday.
The event is not affiliated with the Alaska School Activities Association, but is put on by the Anchorage Hockey Association.
Eric Fabian, a Soldotna assistant, is the head coach, while Steve Hallam, a Kenai Central assistant, is an assistant.
Fabian said Brian Gross with the AHA has been trying to convince the peninsula to get a team together in Anchorage for a few years now. Fabian said there were never enough girls to make it happen.
In December, Gross asked again and this time the peninsula was ready to play at the state tournament, even though the peninsula team didn’t have the benefit of a regular season.
“We had enough girls that wanted to be a part of it,” Fabian said. “At the last minute, we were able to get everything together.”
The eight girls from Soldotna and six from Kenai Central had played coed high school hockey at either the JV or varsity level. One Homer player, Aria Hill, didn’t get a high school season because the Mariners didn’t field a team this year.
The team had three practices and a scrimmage the night before the tournament, but didn’t have the full team on the ice at the same time until Thursday. Fabian thanked the women’s team on the peninsula, the Kenai River Queens, for lending jerseys so the team didn’t have to buy any.
Kenai Peninsula was still able to play South-Bartlett to a 1-0 game. South-Bartlett was second in the Cook Inlet Conference regular season with a 5-3 record.
Kenai Peninsula was outshot 35-11, but Kenai varsity goalie Seanna Swanson made 34 saves. Brielle Akagi had the shutout for South-Bartlett.
The game-winner came with 10:29 left in the game, when Taylor Maddox scored on an assist from Leyla Tieman.
“We had a lot of confidence in her ability to keep us in the game despite getting outshot,” Fabian said of Swanson. “We couldn’t have asked for much more than that — to have a chance. We just weren’t able to get much going offensively.”
Fabian said South-Bartlett took a penalty with 15 seconds left. Kenai Peninsula got off a shot off the faceoff but couldn’t get the puck back after that.
The Kenai Peninsula coach said Liberty Miller played a good game for the team, as did defenders Celina Martinez, Rylie Thompson and Julie Ann Nye.
Kenai Peninsula plays Chugiak-Eagle River, which was 1-7 in the CIC, today at 12:45 in the fourth-sixth place bracket.
Fabian said the experience so far increases the possibility the Kenai Peninsula will have a team in the CIC next year.
“I think having a girls high school hockey team would keep more girls in hockey,” Fabian said.
He said past Under-16 hockey, peninsula girls not interested in the open-ice and board hits of coed hockey currently have no place to go.
South-Bartlett 1, Kenai Peninsula 0
Peninsula 0 0 0 —0
South-Bartlett 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai Peninsula 1 for 2:00; South-Bartlett 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai Peninsula 2 for 4:00; South-Bartlett 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 1. South-Bartlett, Maddox (Tieman), 4:31. Penalties — Kenai Peninsula 1 for 2:00; South-Bartlett 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai Peninsula 5-1-5—11; South-Bartlett 9-11-14—35.
Goalies — Kenai Peninsula, Swanson (35 shots, 34 saves); South-Bartlett, Akagi (11 shots, 11 saves).
Eagles 5, Stars 4
West 1 2 2 —5
Soldotna 1 2 1 —4
First period — 1. Soldotna, Appelhans (Larsen, Booth), 5:19; 2. West, Keim (un.), 13:35. Penalties — West 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. West, Dittrich (Schell-Galliher, Sholton), 2:47; 4. West, Sholton (Dittrich, Thompson), 6:40; 5. Soldotna, Medcoff (DeRaeve, Stinnett), pp, 9:28; 6. Soldotna, Burcham (Bucho), 10:33. Penalties — West 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. West, Abbott (Thompson, Lissner), 7:21; 8. Soldotna, Appelhans (Larsen, Theiler), pp, 9:23; 9. West, Abbott (Melson, Doniere), pp, 12:22. Penalties — West 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — West 8-24-12—44; Soldotna 8-10-4—22.
Goalies — West, Rush (22 shots, 18 saves); Soldotna, Purcell (44 shots, 39 saves).