Soldotna head coach Derek Urban does not have the hockey program’s first victory over South, but he does have a shining example of what happens when the Stars play with energy and within their systems.
The Stars tied the six-time and defending state-champion Wolverines 2-2 on Friday in a riveting nonconference affair at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. With the tie, SoHi put a three game sweep in the Valley last weekend behind it.
“This was a huge experience,” Urban said. “After the way we played last week, it shows the kids they can hang with just about anybody if they stay within the system and play with urgency.”
The great thing about sports is one never knows when a great game will break out. A nonconference game between South (7-3-1) and SoHi (5-5-1) probably wouldn’t have been the first pick on many people’s list, but this baby had it all — great saves, late-game dramatics and clean, skilled, end-to-end play that resulted not only in a tie, but in 33 shots for both sides.
It was the type of game in which the third period and overtime had a few supporters from each squad pacing nervously, whether it be in the area above the bleachers or a viewing area next to the glass.
South is the lone big-schools program that Soldotna has never beaten, and it looked like that would change when the Stars turned a 1-0 deficit entering the third period into a 2-1 advantage entering the final minutes of play.
But with 1 minute, 49 seconds left, South coach Steve Belde called timeout and circled the wagons for one more charge. The Wolverines were able to earn a tripping penalty on the Stars with just 11 seconds left in the game. Naturally, South also pulled the goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage in the final seconds.
SoHi’s Toma Johnson won the big faceoff to the corner, but the potential game-winning clearing attempt smacked a South player right in the helmet. John Matson pounced on the puck and slid it in front of the net, where Daniel Ramsey made a move to beat SoHi goalie Billy Yoder with just one second glowing on the clock.
“The hockey gods were on our side,” Belde said.
After doing so many things right on the play, Urban could only shake his head and smile at what went wrong.
“That clearing attempt went right off the guy’s helmet,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. That break went against us.”
The Buffalo Wild Wings ending to regulation did give fans an eight-minute overtime, with the cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof play of Yoder and South netminder Jeremy Swayman delivering a draw.
Yoder’s best work came just 28 seconds into extra time, when Dyllan Beloy was denied on a point-blank opportunity. With 2:32 to play, SoHi captain and sniper Ty Fenton had a clean rip right in front of Swayman, but he stood strong. Swayman also cleaned up several scrums right on his doorstep with just over a minute left to preserve the tie.
“There was great goaltending on both ends of the ice,” Belde said.
The evening started rather uneventfully with a quick first period. Things livened up in the second when Swayman denied Levi Henlsey on a breakaway at the 10:24 mark, then Yoder made a ripping glove save when Ben Trujillo redirected a centering pass.
“Yoder did what Yoder does,” Urban said. “He kept us in the game when he had to.”
With just 48 seconds left in the second, South got the upper hand when Cameron Foraker let fly from just inside the blue line and the puck weaved its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
But Soldotna didn’t go away, cashing in with just six seconds left on a power play at 12:28 in the third. Trevor Witthus slid the puck across the ice to Justice Miller at the point. Miller’s shot was tipped in by Fenton for a goal.
“That was a nice deflection on the shot from the point,” Urban said. “That’s another thing we’ve been working on in practice.”
Numerous chances to break the tie followed. Yoder turned back a 2-on-1 at 7:25, while Swayman didn’t yield to breakaways at 11:04 and 7:45. On the power play at 6:03, Miller crept in from the point and cracked a shot off the pipe.
At 4:09, Coel Nelson showed good patience in waiting to circle behind the net before dumping a backhand out front that Johnson finished to set up the final-minute dramatics.
“As a coach, you don’t have much time to enjoy a game like this,” Belde said. “You’re too worried about trying to tie it up in the last minute.”
East 6, Kenai 2
The young Kardinals have learned to win. Now they have to learn how to respond to a win.
The Kards (1-9) got their first win of the season Tuesday, but coach Mike Tilly said the team has to find consistency. The Thunderbirds (2-10) took advantage of that Friday at the sports complex.
“Our performance in Homer was much better than our performance tonight,” Tilly said. “Our younger players have to understand how to prepare to play good, quality high school hockey in every game.”
In the first period, East’s Jack Reynolds and Marshall Walsh staked the Thunderbirds to a 2-0 lead.
“I really think we came out kind of flat,” Tilly said. “That has to do with consistency and preparation, both mental and physical.
“We would have liked to have the first period back.”
Just a few minutes into the second, Tarini Tosi made it 3-0 for East.
But then the Thunderbirds were slowed by penalties, taking a five-minute major on a checking from behind and also a hook that gave the Kards 55 seconds of 5-on-3.
“Our guys sometimes play too hard,” East assistant Sean Curry said. “We’re having too many hitting from behind penalties. We have to channel our energy a little better.”
But East goalie Lane Fox was equal to the task of keeping the Kards off the board during the power play.
“It’s always disappointing when you can’t take advantage of an opportunity like that,” Tilly said. “You just have to regroup and go out even strength.”
At the 12:49 mark, Levi Mese cut the gap to 3-1 with the first high school varsity goal of his career. Reynolds would make it 4-1 with 6:20 left, but the freshman Mese struck again at 4:32.
“Being opportunistic is a good thing,” Tilly said. “He was in the right place at the right time. We’ll take them.”
Laauli Tosi and Nicholas Eddens finished with goals to sew things up for East.
Fox had 24 saves, while Nate O’Lena had 33 for Kenai.
After losing five games this season by just one goal, Curry said the win should help.
“This was two pretty evenly matched teams,” he said. “I’m sure for the guys, this felt good.”
South 3, Kenai 1
The Kards fell to 1-10 with the loss to the 8-3-1 Wolverines, but Tilly saw the game as a step forward after Friday’s performance.
“Compared to the way the kids played Friday, it was awesome,” Tilly said.
The Kards grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first period when Dolton Dosko scored on an assist from Mese.
South was heavily outshooting Kenai, but the Kards had the advantage on the scoreboard until deep in the second period.
Nate O’Lena finished with 58 saves, while Griffin Logan had 14 saves for South.
“The shots came out a little uneven, but that’s why we have Nate O’Lena in the net,” Tilly said.
Ramsey scored late in the second, while Tyler Breitenstein and Ben Trujillo had goals in the third.
“We just couldn’t find the back of the net,” Tilly said. “The plan for developing players that we have in place is succeeding, though. They are really coming together and now have the experience of playing in games against some pretty big teams.”
East 2, Soldotna 0
Thunderbirds goalie Lane Fox put an emphatic halt to any momentum the Stars had from Friday’s tie against South.
Fox saved all 28 shots he saw in lifting the Thunderbirds (3-10) to victory over the Stars (5-6-1).
Tarini Tosi scored in the first period for the Thunderbirds, while Nicholas Eddens lit the lamp in the third period.
Billy Yoder had 16 saves for Soldotna.
Big Lake Lions Classic
Homer defeated Colony’s junior varsity 3-2 in Friday play at the Big Lake Lions Classic in the Valley. The Mariners faced Hutchison for fourth place Saturday, but that result was not available as the Clarion went to press.
Wolverines 2, Stars 2
South 0 1 1 0 —2
Soldotna 0 0 2 0 —2
First period — none. Penalties — South 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. South, Foraker (Trujillo, Ramsey), 14:12. Penalties — South 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 2. Soldotna, Fenton (Miller), pp, 2:32; 3. Soldotna, Johnson (Nelson), 10:53; 4. South, Ramsey (Trujillo, Matson), pp, 14:59. Penalties — South 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — South 5-11-12-5—33; Soldotna 8-5-13-7—33.
Goalies — South, Swayman (33 shots, 31 saves); Soldotna, Yoder (33 shots, 31 saves).
Thunderbirds 6, Kardinals 2
East 2 1 3 —6
Kenai 0 0 2 —2
First period — 1. East, Reynolds (Eddens, T. Tosi), 10:07; 2. East, Walsh (Solberg), 11:31. Penalties — East 2 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. East, T. Tosi (Walsh, Reynolds), 1:57. Penalties — East 3 for 17:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai, Mese (Morse), 2:11; 5. East, Reynolds (un.), 8:40; 6. Kenai, Mese (Dosko, Arbelovsky), 10:28; 7. East, L. Tosi (Walsh), 10:53; 8. East, Eddens (Reynolds), 13:52. Penalties — East 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — East 11-12-16—39; Kenai 7-8-11—26.
Goalies — East, Fox (26 shots, 24 saves); Kenai, O’Lena (39 shots, 33 saves).
Wolverines 3, Kardinals 1
South 0 1 2 —3
Kenai 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai, Dosko (Mese), 7:07. Penalties — South 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. South, Ramsey (Dragomir, Matson), 12:08. Penalties — South 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. South, Breitenstein (Dragomir, Matson), 6:26; 4. South, Trujillo (un.), 8:15. Penalties — South 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — South 25-18-18—61; Kenai 3-9-3—15.
Goalies — South, Logan (15 shots, 14 saves); Kenai, O’Lena (61 shots, 58 saves).
Thunderbirds 2, Stars 0
East 1 0 1 —2
Soldotna 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. East, T. Tosi (Ceccarelli, Manu), 1:35. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — East 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 2. East, Eddens (T. Tosi, De Stefano), 1:40. Penalties — East 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — East 3-4-11—18; Soldotna 13-5-10—28.