The Homer Mariners made sure the first-place trophy of the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank Cup Division II State Hockey Championships was going home with them.
The Mariners defeated the Soldotna Stars 4-1 for the title Saturday night at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Ice Arena. Homer got to celebrate after this year’s final a year after they lost by a goal (6-5) to the Palmer in the inaugural version of the Division II state tournament.
“We’ve been here before (in the state final). We were ready, we knew what it would take to win,” Homer senior utility player Ethan Pitzman said amid a postgame celebration of Mariners players, coaches and fans on the Patty ice sheet.
What did it take for Homer to cap its title run Saturday?
“It just took energy from everyone,” Pitzman said. “Everyone just bought in to get the win. This was awesome.”
Pitzman provided two goals and an assist, and sophomore goaltender Keegan Strong denied 40 of 41 shots to secure the title victory.
“At first, I was really nervous but my teammates kept me in it,” said Strong. ” I just tried to support them and told them that they’re playing great. Their defense was just amazing.”
Soldotna head coach Indy Walton noticed Strong’s efforts, too.
“The game changer was their goaltender,” Walton said by cellphone later Saturday night. “Strong was impenetrable. We had cross-ice passes, one-timers and he moved over and a got a piece of them.
“We had open looks and he came up big and shot us down. You get 40 (41) shots in a game and only score one — he was definitely the MVP in my book.”
Strong allowed only two goals in three games of the state tournament. He backstopped a 13-0 win over Healy’s Tri-Valley Viking Warriors on Thursday and a 7-1 semifinal win over the North Pole Patriots on Friday.
The second goal he allowed at UAF this weekend was Trent Powell’s shot from the left circle during a 5-on-3 power play at 4:44 of the second period to tie the game at 1.
Karl Wickstrom, with an assist from Casey Otis, had scored from front of the crease at 6:05 of the first period for a 1-0 lead for Homer.
“We outshot them (14-11) in the first period, so we took that momentum and kept it going into the second period,” Walton said. “We had more time of possession in our favor, our forecheck was going great. We were shutting a couple of their big guns, Pitzman and (Isaiah) Nevak.
“A great team effort, a lot of heart on both sides of the ice.”
Back-to-back power play goals put the Mariners ahead for good.
Pitzman beat Stars goaltender Josh Tree (35 saves) from the top of the slot at 11:58 of the second period. Tyler Gilliland and Alden Ross assisted Pitzman’s first goal of the night.
Phinney Weston, with Pitzman’s help, capitalized on a man-advantage session at 11:35 of the third.
Pitzman sealed the title quest with an empty-net goal with 5 seconds left on the Patty scoreboard’s clock.
Homer is scheduled to play in the Division I state tournament on Thursday through Saturday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla.
Billy Strickland, ASAA executive director, said Saturday that the champion from the Division II state tournament has the option of playing in the Division I state competition.
Zachary Nelius, with help from Sophia Johnson, scored with 1:53 left in overtime to lift the Palmer Moose to a 4-3 victory over the North Pole Patriots.
Palmer led 3-2 with Jeremy Horacek’s goal off assists from Bryce Armstrong and Carter Greco with 12:47 left in the third period.
Kody Genz scored unassisted for North Pole to even the score at 3 with 9:32 left in the third.
North Pole scored twice in the first period, starting with Mason Wibur’s goal, assisted by Daniel Crutcher, with 12:10 left in the period.
Crutcher scored unassisted with 6:47 remaining.
Pallmer also scored twice in the opening period. Nelius, with an assist from Johnson, found the back of the net with 3:47 remaining. Armstrong got his first of the game with assists from Horacek and Greco with 2:23 to go.
Joshua Horacek had 19 saves for Palmer, which got 11 saves from Tiernan O’Rourke. Nic Clark registered 37 saves for North Pole.
Kenai 4, Glennallen/Tok/Barrow 0
The Kardinals wrapped up fourth place in the tournament with Jackson Cross earning a 30-save shutout.
Jacob Begich, assisted by Daniel Shelden, scored in the first period for the Kards, while Jordan Knudsen and Daniel Shelden scored unassisted in the second. Jordyn Stock, assisted by Miles Marston and Knudsen, finished up the scoring in the third.
Charlie Taui had 41 saves for Glennallen in the third.
Soldotna 6, Palmer 0
The Stars got revenge on the defending state champion Moose for a 4-3 overtime loss in last season’s state semifinals.
Soldotna led 2-0 after the first period and 3-0 entering the third period.
Galen Brantley III had a pair of goals for SoHi, while Trent Powell had a goal and four assists. Journey Miller added a goal and an assist, while Gavin Haakenson and Josh Olena also found the back of the net.
Alex Montague and Wyatt Medcoff added assists for the Stars.
Corbin Wirz stopped 25 for the shutout, while Tiernan O’Rourke saved 43 for the Moose.
Homer 7, North Pole 1
The Mariners topped the Patriots in the semifinals to move into the championship for the second straight year.
Isaiah Nevak had a dominant game, scoring four unassisted goals and added a pair of assists. Tyler Gilliland, Alden Ross and Ethan Pitzman added goals, while Ethan Pitzman had an assist.
Keegan Strong stopped 13 for Homer, while Nic Clark saved 52 for North Pole.
Kenai 6, Tri-Valley 2
The Kardinals took a 5-2 lead after two periods in defeating the Viking Warriors in a consolation semifinal.
Jacob Begich had two goals for Kenai, while Miles Marston, Daniel Shelden, Tucker Vann and Landen Cialek added tallies. Shelden, Cialek, Aiden Milburn and Travis Verkuilen had assists.
Tommy Baker stopped 22 for the Kardinals, while Danny Renshaw saved 29 for Tri-Valley.
Stars 6, Moose 0
Palmer 0 0 0 —0
Soldotna 2 1 3 —6
First period — 1. Soldotna, Powell (A. Montague), 9:14; 2. Soldotna, Haakenson (Powell), 12:14. Penalties — Palmer 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Soldotna, Brantley III (Powell), 10:14. Penalties — Palmer 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 4. Soldotna, Brantley III (J. Miller), 3:03; 5. Soldotna, J. Miller (Medcoff, Powell), 10:41; 6. Soldotna, Olena (Powell), 11:00. Penalties — Palmer 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Palmer 11-5-9—25; Soldotna 16-18-15—49.
Goalies — Palmer, O’Rourke (49 shots, 43 saves); Soldotna, Wirz (25 shots, 25 saves).
Mariners 7, Patriots 1
North Pole 1 0 0 —1
Homer 3 2 2 —7
First period — 1. Homer, Gilliland (I. Nevak), 1:58; 2. Homer, I. Nevak (un.), 5:05; 3. Homer, Ross (I. Nevak, E. Pitzman), 6:20; 4. North Pole, Clark (Wilbus), 9:58. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 4:00; Homer 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 5. Homer, I. Nevak (un.), 3:32; 6. Homer, I. Nevak (un.), 11:51. Penalties — North Pole 1 for 2:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Homer, I. Nevak (un.), 3:52; 8. Homer, E. Pitzman (un.), 5:32. Penalties — North Pole 1 for 2:00; Homer 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — North Pole 1-8-5—14; Homer 20-25-16—61.
Goalies — North Pole, Clark (61 shots, 52 saves); Homer, Strong (14 shots, 13 saves).
Kardinals 6, Viking Warriors 2
Tri-Valley 1 1 0 —2
Kenai 2 3 1 —6
First period — 1. Kenai, Begich (Shelden, Cialek), 2:53; 2. Tri-Valley, Lusby (Planty, J. Renshaw), 9:12; 3. Kenai, Marston (un.), 11:52. Penalties — Tri-Valley 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai, Shelden (Verkuilen), 5:10; 5. Kenai, Vann (Milburn), 5:51; 6. Kenai, Begich (un.), 8:42; 7. Tri-Valley, J. Renshaw (Stickle, Speer), 13:47. Penalties — Tri-Valley 1 for 2:00; Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 8. Kenai, Cialek (un.), 3:46. Penalties — Tri-Valley 2 for 4:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Tri-Valley 10-7-7—24; Kenai 11-12-12—35.
Goalies — Tri-Valley, D. Renshaw (35 shots, 29 saves); Kenai, Baker (24 shots, 22 saves).
Kardinals 4, Glennallen/Tok/Barrow 0
Glennallen 0 0 0 —0
Kenai 1 2 1 —4
First period — 1. Kenai, Jacob Begich (Daniel Shelden), 6:38.
Second period — 2. Kenai, Jordan Knudsen (un.), 0:36; 3. Kenai, Daniel Shelden (un.), 1:51.
Third period — 4. Kenai, Jordyn Stock (Miles Marston, Jordan Knudsen), 10:12.
Shots on goal — Glennallen 8-10-12—30; Kenai 12-20-13—45.
Goalies — Glennallen, Taui (45 shots, 41 saves); Kenai, Cross (30 shots, 30 saves).
Mariners 4, Stars 1
Soldotna 0 1 0 —1
Homer 1 1 2 —4
First period — 1. Homer, Wickstrom (Otis), 6:05. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Soldotna, Powell (un.), pp, 4:44; 3. Homer, E. Pitzman (Gilliland, Ross), pp, 11:35; 4. Homer, Weston (E. Pitzman), pp, 11:58. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Homer, E. Pitzman (un.), 14:55. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 14-10-17—41; Homer 11-13-12—36.
Goalies — Soldotna, Tree (36 shots, 32 saves); Homer, Strong (41 shots, 40 saves).
By DANNY MARTIN