The Soldotna hockey team saw its season end with a 5-3 loss to Wasilla on Friday at the Division I tournament at the Menard Center in Wasilla.
The Stars (13-8-3) won the first Division II state title in school history last weekend in Fairbanks, but could not carry that momentum through to this weekend in going 0-2 at Division I state.
The problem is common. Since Division II teams have been able to qualify for Division I state in 2019, the Division II state champ has never won a game at Division I state.
Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh understands why. Especially with the Division II tournament in Fairbanks this season, it was a quick turnaround to get ready for state.
“I think we’re run really hard right now,” Zurfluh said. “We’re starting to feel it, starting to feel whipped and beat up. But that’s part of being a champion. You have to learn to fight through those things.”
Just like in the 5-4 loss to West in the tournament opener, the Stars were in the game against Wasilla the whole way. Soldotna had tied and defeated Wasilla in the regular season.
Mason Holler gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead after the first period, but less than a minute into the second period, Silas Larsen tied it on assists from Boone Theiler and Mykah Booth.
With 9:54 left in the second period, Dalan Dubie put the Warriors up 2-1, but less than a minute later Larsen, with help from Theiler and Aiden Burcham, had the game square again.
With 1:17 left in the second, Wasilla again took the lead on a Branson Starheim goal.
Just 10 seconds into the third period, Theiler tied it on Larsen and Andrew Arthur assists.
Wasilla closed out the win with a short-handed goal by Sayer Sanders and a goal off a turnover by Easton McCree.
“I feel we played pretty dang good,” Zurfluh said. “It was an even hockey game and back and forth. In the end, we made two costly mistakes and those are the mistakes that decide hockey games.”
Jordan Pfile stopped 31 for Wasilla. Jackson Purcell saved 17 for the Stars, while Tanner Clyde got in late in the third period and made a save.
Zurfluh said there was obvious disappointment in the locker room after the game, but the mood brightened as the team reflected on the season it had.
“I love these guys and more than anything we’ve got a bond for life because we won a state championship together,” Zurfluh said. “We set some goals and we were able to reach those goals. Everything else is a bonus.
“They can take a deep breath, reflect back and enjoy the praise.”
The coach said the bonus hockey was a great way for impactful seniors Burcham, Larsen, Purcell, Dawson Lockwood, Zeke Miller and Blake Bucho to end their careers.
“I’m really going to miss all my seniors,” Zurfluh said.
The coach also said the bonus hockey will be good for the younger players on the team, even those who didn’t play but got to see what a Division I state tournament looks like.
Chugiak-Eagle River girls 4, Kenai Peninsula 1
The Kenai Peninsula girls fell for the second straight day at the Girls High School State Tournament.
While the Kenai Peninsula team did not have a regular season and was formed just for this tournament, Chugiak-Eagle River finished 1-7 in the regular season and lost on the opening day of the tournament 8-0 to Fairbanks.
Coming off a 1-0 loss to South-Bartlett, which finished 5-3 in the regular season, prospects were looking good for Kenai Peninsula on Friday.
“I think that even though we talked to the girls beforehand and told them they can’t just go out there and win, I think they thought they would kind of just beat them,” Kenai Peninsula head coach Eric Fabian said. “In the first two or three minutes, they started pretty strong and I think it took us awhile to get going.”
Myla Lubken had two unassisted goals to put Chugiak-Eagle River up 2-0 after the first, then Daphne Gray and Kara Rahm had Chugiak-Eagle River up 4-0 headed to the third.
Lexi Taylor, assisted by Chloe See, scored for Kenai Peninsula in the third.
Chugiak-Eagle River rolled up a big shot advantage in the game. Fabian said Kacey Cunningham played great in recording 41 saves, while Luna Foley stopped seven for Chugiak-Eagle River.
The Kenai Peninsula team did not get all of its players on the ice together until Thursday, and Fabian said it showed when players were unsure who was supposed to chase the puck.
“It was kind of one of the things we were worried about, but I thought we’d overcome it,” Fabian said. “I’m not gonna lie. It was tough.”
Fabian said the team was down after the game because the tournament is double elimination, but Chugiak-Eagle River said it couldn’t field a team today, so Kenai Peninsula will play Service-East at 11:45 a.m.
“Everybody had their head down and was ready to call it a day, but when they asked if we’d like to play another game, we said we’d love to,” Fabian said. “We went to have a team dinner and everybody seemed to be happy again. Hopefully, we’ll come out tomorrow and play really strong.”
Fabian said the team started playing better in the third period and he hopes that can carry through to today.
Warriors 5, Stars 3
Wasilla 1 2 2 —5
Soldotna 0 2 1 —3
First period — 1. Wasilla, Holler (un.), 8:09. Penalties — Wasilla 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Soldotna, Larsen (Theiler, Booth), 0:57; 3. Wasilla, Dubie (McCree, Holler), 5:06; 4. Soldotna, Larsen (Theiler, Burcham), 5:44; 5. Wasilla, Starheim (McGrew, Barksdale), 13:43. Penalties — Wasilla 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 6. Soldotna, Theiler (Larsen, Arthur), 0:10; 7. Wasilla, Sanders (Myers), 5:42; 8. Wasilla, McCree (un.), 8:35. Penalties — Wasilla 5 for 10:00; Soldotna 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Wasilla 11-7-5—23; Soldotna 9-8-17—34.
Goalies — Wasilla, Pfile (34 shots, 31 saves); Soldotna, Purcell (22 shots, 17 saves), Clyde (1 shot, 1 save).
Chugiak-Eagle River 4, Kenai Peninsula 1
C-ER 2 2 0 —4
KP 0 0 1 —1
First period — 1. Chugiak-Eagle River, Lubken (un.), 4:51; 2. Chugiak-Eagle River, Lubken (un.), 14:43. Penalties — Chugiak-Eagle River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Chugiak-Eagle River, Gray (Rahm, Kotlarchuk), pp, 2:19; 4. Chugiak-Eagle River, Rahm (Lubken, Harbottle), 4:19. Penalties — Kenai Peninsula 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai Peninsula, Taylor (See), 5:21. Penalties — Chugiak-Eagle River 1 for 2:00; Kenai Peninsula 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Chugiak-Eagle River 14-19-12—45; Kenai Peninsula 2-1-5—8.
Goalies — Chugiak-Eagle River, Foley (8 shots, 7 saves); Kenai Peninsula, Cunningham (45 shots, 41 saves).