Heading into Saturday night’s regular season-ending tussle against Kenai Central, the Soldotna hockey team was already locked into its conference tournament playoff position at No. 4.
That didn’t mean the Stars had nothing to play for.
Against its longtime rivals, SoHi rolled to a 6-0 win to end the regular season at 4-6-0 in North Star Conference play and grasp some needed momentum heading into the postseason. The Kardinals dropped to 1-9-0 in conference with the loss.
“It’s good to get a W going into regions,” said SoHi forward Cameron Knowlton. “It’s giving us a lot of confidence.”
Knowlton finished the game with four points — a pair of goals and assists — to lead the Stars. Levi Hensley scored and added three assists and Billy Yoder preserved the 17-save shutout in goal.
“It’s high intensity out there, but we’re all friends,” Knowlton said about facing SoHi’s rival.
Kenai goalie Ryan Williams stood tall in net for the Kards, but allowed a few late goals to dirty up his scoresheet.
Homer finished off the regular season Thursday night with a win over Kenai that left the Mariners 2-8-0 for the year and No. 5 in the NSC, matching them up with Soldotna for the first matchup of next weekend’s NSC tournament. No. 6 Kenai will face No. 3 Wasilla (6-4-0) to open its tournament. Palmer claimed the top seed with a 9-0-1 conference mark, while Colony took second at 7-2-1, meaning both teams will receive byes on the first day.
SoHi coach Derek Urban said the postseason will bring another level of intensity to the game, and the Mariners are a team that the Stars are looking forward to playing.
“It’s not going to be an easy road,” Urban said. “(Homer) always provides a tight game with us. We’re going to have to bring our A-game.”
Urban said he thought his squad came out playing a bit flat Saturday, but if the Stars were flat, they didn’t show it. Knowlton struck first early in the game, getting a low shot to slip beneath Williams and give SoHi the first lead of the contest.
It didn’t take long for Knowlton to tally his second goal. On the opening faceoff of the second period, SoHi immediately controlled the puck and skated down the ice to score on Knowlton’s attempt just seven seconds in. Knowlton had assists from Levi Hensley and Jace Urban.
“Hensley got it to me and we went on a two-on-one, and I got the shot off,” Knowlton said.
The Stars did not score again until 1:17 left in the period, when Ryan Moeglein took a slap shot from close to the blue line that resulted in the puck rattling around in the crease. It bounced off the stick of Calvin Hills before Urban put it away for a 3-0 Soldotna lead.
“I really thought we moved a lot better in the second period,” Urban said. “Plus it was senior night, so there was a lot of motivation there too.”
Kardinals coach Michael Tilly said as lopsided as the score ended up, he thought the game featured a closer battle than the end result.
“It’s almost impossible to emotionally prepare a team to play in a game like this,” Tilly said. “They say that hockey is 90 percent mental, and 10 percent physical. That’s kind of how it is with us.”
With the scoring prowess that Soldotna tends to produce, Tilly said half the battle for his team was getting the Kenai players to focus on scoring, instead of trying to simply fend SoHi off.
“We’ve come a long way this year, but we have to have a certain level of confidence,” he said.
In the third period, Calvin Hills scored 4:22 into the frame to give SoHi a 4-0 lead, racing with the puck from the left faceoff circle and depositing it top shelf.
Kenai mustered up several late attacks in order to break the shutout, but Yoder managed to get a glove on each puck that came his way.
Ethan Brown and Hensley both scored goals in the final 1:20 to seal the win.
Stars 6, Kardinals 0
Kenai 0 0 0 —0
Soldotna 1 2 3 —6
1st period — 1. Soldotna, Knowlton (Urban, Brown), pp, 3:07. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 2. Soldotna, Knowlton (Hensley, Urban), :07; 3. Soldotna, Urban (Hills, Moeglein), 13:43. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 4. Soldotna, Hills (Knowlton, Hensley), 4:22; 5. Soldotna, Brown (Hills, Hensley), pp, 13:40; 6. Soldotna, Hensley (Knowlton, Brown), pp, 14:42. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Kenai 7 for 22:00.
Shots — Kenai 3-7-7—17; Soldotna 15-14-19—48.
Goalies — Kenai, Williams (48 shots, 42 saves); Soldotna, Yoder (17 shots, 17 saves).