Soldotna coach Derek Urban said that, in a team huddle with the score tied 3-3 with Homer with just 14.3 seconds left in Friday’s Peninsula Ice Challenge contest, freshman Galen Brantley III told his linemates to get the puck up to him.
When asked about that after the game, Brantley III demurred: “Kind of,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Luckily for the Stars, Brantley III is a lot more assertive on the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex ice than he is in postgame interviews.
The faceoff to restart the game was in Soldotna’s end, but the puck got caught up in traffic as Homer tried to get it to the net. Jace Urban did get the puck up to Brantley III, who barreled up the left side of the ice on a two-on-one and beat Homer goalie Hunter Warren with just five seconds to play for the game-winner in the 4-3 triumph.
Coach Urban said foreign exchange student Alois Neunzert played a huge role in the play by hustling up to make it two-on-one. Brantley III said he was trying to throw the puck at Warren’s pad on the far side so Neunzert could tap in the rebound.
“Right away, I didn’t even think it went in,” Brantley III said. “When I saw it did, I didn’t know what to think.”
It was that kind of final period of hockey.
Early in the game, Soldotna looked ready to dominate. In the first five minutes, Wyatt Medcoff scored on assists from Parker Lockwood and Trevor Witthus, and Brantley III had the first goal of his high school career for a 2-0 lead.
Then in the second period, the Stars pushed it to 3-0 when Ethan Brown scored unassisted. Soldotna had Homer on shots 24-8 through the first two periods.
“We didn’t really play the style we wanted to in the first two periods,” Homer coach Justin Adams said.
In the third, the coach said his team started moving its feet better in the defensive zone and shooting and crashing the net in the offensive zone.
The goals came quickly — Dimitry Kuzmin from Robby Larson 1:29 into the period, Garrett Butcher unassisted 5:37 into the period, and Charlie Menke from Larson and Brenna McCarron 6:18 into the period.
Coach Urban said the Stars needed goalie Billy Yoder to step up.
“When they scored to make it 3-3, I got Billy’s attention from the bench and told him that he’d have to hold the fort because they had the momentum,” Urban said.
Yoder was able to do just that in the final minute.
With 14.3 seconds left, Butcher got a breakaway and Yoder made the save, although the puck ended up in the crease and Butcher was given a penalty shot when a Soldotna skater covered the puck instead of swiping it away.
Yoder, a junior, then reached in the memory bank from his freshman year to save Butcher’s penalty shot. Two years ago, Yoder said Butcher had a penalty shot against the Stars in Homer and tried to take the forehand to Yoder’s glove side. Yoder said Butcher made the same basic move on the breakaway and penalty shot Friday.
But even after Brantley III scored, the Mariners were not done. Tim Blakely somehow earned an open chance out front with just seconds left, but again Yoder made a scrambling save.
“If anybody underestimates Homer, they are gravely mistaken,” coach Urban said.
Adams said the loss stung, but also is a good building block.
“The win or loss is not our big concern right now,” he said. “We’ve got 24 games in the season, but the season really doesn’t start until Game 1 of the region tournament.
Warren had 37 saves for the Mariners, while Yoder stopped 20 for the Stars.
Houston 8, Kenai 3
Tyler Chivers had a hat trick as the Hawks improved to 1-1 on the season with a victory over the Kardinals in the Peninsula Ice Challenge on Friday.
Also for the Hawks, Kai Kingery had two goals and two assists, Isaac Smoldon had a goal and two assists, Blake Rogers and Hayden Chivers each had a goal and an assist, and Yuriy Natekin, Ree Humphreys and Andrew Natekin had two assists apiece.
But the biggest hero thus far this season for the Hawks may be goalie J.P. Nix, who is filling in for injured starter Josh Smoldon. Houston coach Mike Styers said Nix played some goalie in youth hockey, but the sophomore has had the gear on for just four practices for the Hawks.
Thursday, he made 42 saves in a 3-0 loss to Soldotna and Friday he had 16 saves.
Styers also liked the way freshman Sam Pike moved up to the third line to fill in for an injury. He said there are always things to work on in just the second game, like getting out of the defensive zone and learning where the defensemen should pinch, but overall he was happy with the improvement from the first game.
Kardinals coach Michael Tilly, whose team fell to 0-2 overall, said he was not dissatisfied with his club’s performance, but added that conditioning early in the season may have been a factor. The Kards were coming off an 8-7 overtime loss to Homer on Thursday.
“Our performance was not up to where it was last night,” Tilly said.
After a hat trick Thursday, Levi Mese put up two more goals Friday, with assists to Jakeb O’Brien and Brenna Eubank on the first goal and Matt Hagel on the second goal. O’Brien, assisted by Hagel, had the other goal for Kenai.
“He’s a talented skater and a talented shooter,” Tilly said of Mese. “We’re trying to find different combinations to help him find open ice. That’s where he does his best work.”
Tilly said a strong group of freshmen continued to learn what varsity hockey is like. He said the players are not used to playing against those so much older than them.
“The freshmen took a couple big hits tonight and kept their head and kept skating hard,” Tilly said.
With the group of freshmen, Tilly said the leadership of Hagel on defense and O’Brien up front continues to be important.
Ryan Williams made 31 saves for the Kardinals.
The Peninsula Ice Challenge concludes at the sports complex Saturday with Homer facing Houston at 1:15 p.m. and Soldotna taking on Kenai at 3:45 p.m.
Stars 4, Mariners 3
Homer 0 0 3 —3
Soldotna 2 1 1 —4
First period — 1. Soldotna, Medcoff (Lockwood, Witthus), 2:03; 2. Soldotna, Brantley (un.), 4:12. Penalties — Homer 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Soldotna, Brown (un.), 12:14. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Homer, Kuzmin (Larson), 1:29; 5. Homer, Butcher (un.), 5:37; 6. Homer, Menke (Larson, McCarron), 6:18; 7. Soldotna, Brantley (J. Urban), 14:55. Penalties — Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 3-5-15—23; Soldotna 13-11-17—41.
Goalies — Homer, Warren (41 shots, 37 saves); Soldotna, Yoder (23 shots, 20 saves).
Hawks 8, Kardinals 3
Houston 3 2 3 —8
Kenai 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Houston, Rogers (I. Smoldon), 1:04; 2. Houston, T. Chivers (Kingery, Y. Natekin), 11:12; 3. Kenai, Mese (O’Brien, Eubank), 12:46; 4. Houston, Kingery (Rogers, H. Chivers), 14:40. Penalties — Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 5. Houston, H. Chivers (I. Smoldon, Humphreys), 0:38; 6. Houston, Kingery (Humphreys), 7:16; 7. Kenai, O’Brien (Hagel), 14:21. Penalties — Houston 2 for 4:00; Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 8. Houston, T. Chivers (Kingery), 0:28; 9. Houston, I. Smoldon (A. Natekin), 1:25; 10. Houston, T. Chivers (A. Natekin, Y. Natekin), 5:26; 11. Kenai, Mese (Hagel), 11:29. Penalties — Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Houston 17-11-11—39; Kenai 10-6-3—19.