Soldotna, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 2 seed Palmer 1-0 on Friday to advance to the championship of the Division II state hockey tournament at the Patty Center in Fairbanks.
Also Friday, No. 5 seed Kenai Central moved to the fourth-sixth place game by defeating No. 8 Delta Junction 7-3.
The Stars will take on No. 4 Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale at 5 p.m. today for the state championship. The Crimson Bears are making their first appearance in the state championship, while the Stars are making their second. SoHi lost in the final to Homer in 2020.
“It’s unbelievable,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “This group is unbelievable. It’s gonna be so much fun.
“I’m so proud to be a SoHi Star. Top to bottom, this team brought it. I’m so proud of these guys.”
Soldotna defeated Juneau 3-1 and 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 13 and 14.
Houston, the No. 1 seed and defending state champion, lost 4-3 to the Crimson Bears (8-8) on Friday. The Hawks are now 22-2-1.
Zurfluh said tournament favorite Houston getting knocked off doesn’t mean things get easier for the Stars.
“Other than the Delta-Houston game, every single game in this tournament has been a battle,” Zurfluh said. “I’d expect nothing less tomorrow.”
Kenai, the No. 5 seed, will take on No. 6 North Pole in the fourth-sixth place game at noon. The Patriots defeated No. 6 Monroe Catholic 6-2 on Friday. Kenai (9-14-1) and North Pole (10-12-0) have not played this season.
Palmer (13-10-1) will face Houston in the third-fifth place game at 2:30 p.m.
Soldotna 1, Palmer 0
A Jace Appelhans power-play goal early in the third period provided the difference as the Stars avenged two losses to the Moose earlier this season.
“Our power play was on fire,” Zurfluh said. “Their goalie played lights out. We could not break through. Jace Appelhans was able to pick them apart and get one like he always does.
“Other than that, we probably had seven Grade A chances he saved.”
Jackson Purcell made 14 saves for the shutout for Soldotna. Brody Joseph had 33 saves for the Moose.
The Stars committed five penalties in the first period, leading to several five-on-three situations, but SoHi was able to kill off those penalties.
“The key to our success was video,” Zurfluh said. “We studied their power play so hard today and last night. We had a video session today and it paid dividends.
“In the first period, they outshot us 3-2 and we were on the penalty kill the whole period. It was amazing.”
Zurfluh said Marshall Deraeve and Daniel Heath were incredible on the penalty kill. Then he said defensemen Aiden Burcham, Andrew Arthur, Zachary Zurfluh and Aiden Stinnett kept things solid and simple.
The Moose then had penalty trouble, committing three penalties for nine minutes in the second period.
The five-minute major would carry over into the third period. That’s the penalty Appelhans used to get his goal 19 seconds into the third, with an assist from Silas Larsen.
Kenai Central 7, Delta Junction 3
For the fourth straight season, the Kardinals have lost on the first day of the state tournament and won on the second day.
In 2020 and 2022, Kenai went on to finish fourth. In 2021, Kenai won on the second day, but there was no fourth-sixth place game because the tournament was pared back by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kardinals had beaten Delta 4-1 back on Nov. 10 and were able to get another win with constant pressure and a second-straight hat trick from Logan Mese.
“It was a great win,” Kenai head coach Scott Shelden said. “We ran into a hot goalie, but we had lots of pressure, and stayed on it.”
Shelden said the pressure eventually got to the Huskies, who entered the third period tied at 3.
“They played amazing, but they have a short bench,” Shelden said of Delta. “It was a hard and tough game. We wore them down by the time we got the go-ahead goal in the third period.”
There were four goals in the first period and all came on the power play.
After Gavin Smith opened the scoring for Delta, Mese, assisted by Zach Rogerss and Avery Martin, tied it with 10:33 left in the first.
Tanner Brant put Delta out front again, but Mese, with help from Landen Cialek, had it tied with 56 seconds left in the first period.
Kenai took its first lead with 14:12 left in the second period, when Cialek scored on Mese and Martin assists. Delta had it tied by the 9:23 mark of the second period on another Smith goal.
The Kardinals then took control in the third period. Shelden said the nice thing was that more lines contributed than the Mese-Cialek-Martin unit.
With 13:50, Ky Calvert got the game-winner on assists from Gavin Liles and Ethan Tree. Calvert also would score Kenai’s last goal on assists from Josiah Petty and Liles.
Shelden said Calvert hadn’t played hockey in a few years due to basketball, but chose to play hockey his senior year.
“He hasn’t played in a few years, but he moves the puck so well and he’s such a team player,” Shelden said. “For him to bury a few goals really fired the whole team up.”
The other goals in the third period came from Mese, assisted by Cialek and Martin, and William Howard, assisted by Rogerss.
Howard, a freshman, waited for state to get the first goal of his varsity career.
“He broke his arm earlier in the year and he just stuck with it,” Shelden said.
The coach also said defensemen Reagan Graves, Sawyer Vann, Tree and Caden Warren don’t show up on the scoresheet much, but do a great job.
Evyn Witt made 21 saves to get the win for Kenai, while Jordan Bouziden stopped 40 for the Huskies.
Kardinals 7, Huskies 3
Delta 2 1 0 —3
Kenai 2 1 4 —7
First period — 1. Delta, Smith (Kline, Haas), pp, 1:37; 2. Kenai, Mese (Rogerss, Martin), pp, 4:27; 3. Delta, Brant (Hudgin, Kline), pp, 11:04; 4. Kenai, Mese (Cialek), pp, 14:04. Penalties — Delta 3 for 6:00; Kenai 4 for 8:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai, Cialek (Mese, Martin), 0:48; 6. Delta, Smith (un.), 5:37. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai, Calvert (Liles, Tree), 1:10; 8. Kenai, Mese (Cialek, Martin), 7:19; 9. Kenai, Howard (Rogerss), 10:10; 10. Kenai, Calvert (Petty, Liles), 11:20. Penalties — Delta 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Delta 9-12-4—25; Kenai 16-14-17—47.
Goalies — Delta, Bouziden (47 shots, 40 saves); Kenai, Witt (25 shots, 21 saves).
Stars 1, Moose 0
Soldotna 0 0 1 —1
Palmer 0 0 0 —0
First period — none. Penalties — Soldotna 5 for 10:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Palmer 3 for 9:00.
Third period — 1. Soldotna, Appelhans (Larsen), 0:19. Penalties — Palmer 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 2-15-17—34; Palmer 3-5-6—14.
Goalies — Soldotna, Purcell (14 shots, 14 saves); Palmer, Joseph (34 shots, 33 saves).