The Homer hockey team that has been making waves across the state debuted on the central Kenai Peninsula on Tuesday night and did not disappoint.
The Mariners rolled to an 11-3 North Star Conference victory over the Soldotna Stars at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Homer, with its 10th straight victory, moves to 11-2 overall and 4-0 in the league. The Stars drop to 1-9-2 and 0-4-1.
“I love this team,” Soldotna coach Indy Walton said of the Mariners. “I have a lot of respect for them.
“They’re well-coached, and their kids give 100 percent effort every shift. The No. 1 most important thing in hockey is speed, and they’ve got it.”
The Mariners also have a nice mix of youth and experience, with five seniors and eight juniors on the roster. That’s very different from the Stars, who have six juniors and no seniors listed on the roster.
Both teams have lots of young talent, but Walton said being able to mix that youth with experience is huge.
“Those seniors and juniors have the work ethic and are pulling the sophomores and freshmen up to their level,” Walton said.
Senior Dimitry Kuzmin, one of three team captains, led Homer on Tuesday with a hat trick, but Homer coach Chance Rockett said Kuzmin, who missed the first three games of the season, wasn’t even in the top three in points coming into the game. The top three were all freshmen and sophomores.
Kuzmin led the team in points his sophomore and junior years and is more than happy to have help this season. Homer was able to roll three lines of forwards out all game and even went to four lines in the latter half of the game.
“A huge difference this year is anybody can score on any line,” Kuzmin said. “It wasn’t like that in past years.”
Sophomore JJ Williamson added two goals and an assist for Homer, while senior Douglas Dean had three assists, senior Tim Blakely had two goals, freshman Phin Weston had two goals, senior Spencer Warren had a goal and an assist, sophomore Isaiah Nevak had a goal and sophomore Tyler Gilliland, sophomore Ethan Pitzman and junior Lee Lowe had assists.
While Rockett said having skilled forwards is nice, he said it all starts in back for his squad. Goalie Hunter Warren shut the Stars out for the first period before freshman Vlase Polushkin made his varsity debut in the second period and junior Connor Roderick saw time in the third period.
“We’ve then got four, five, six defensemen that are making a big difference this year,” Rockett said. “We can break the puck out of the zone with speed.”
Rockett said all the individual talent is pulling more and more together as a team, and that has the Mariners thinking big.
“Everyone is working so hard and wants to make it to state,” Kuzmin said. “It’s happening.”
The Stars were down 9-0 entering the third period but actually won the third period 3-2. Wyatt Medcoff started the third with a goal assisted by Luke Kline and Galen Brantley III, then Medcoff scored unassisted. Finally, Alex Montague had a power-play goal, assisted by Medcoff and Braxton Urban.
Walton said Medcoff was his player of the game, but he also gave a lot of credit to JD Schmelzenbach for playing despite illness. That was important because the Stars aren’t deep to begin with, and played Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Mackenzie Powell had 19 saves on 26 shots for SoHi, while Corbin Wirz added 10 saves on 14 shots. For Homer, Warren saved all eight, Polushkin saved all six, and Roderick had seven saves on 10 shots.
The Stars now must play Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Fairbanks, while Homer is off until playing at Kenai Central on Dec. 16 at 5 p.m.
Mariners 11, Stars 3
Homer 4 5 2 — 11
Soldotna 0 0 3 — 3
First period — 1. Homer, Kuzmin (S. Warren), 3:15; 2. Homer, Nevak (un.), 9:05; 3. Homer, Blakely (Williams, Gilliland), 9:41; 4. Homer, Weston (Lowe), 11:28. Penalties — none.
Second period — 5. Homer, Kuzmin (Dean), 4:51; 6. Homer, Williams (Menke, Dean), pp, 6:33; 7. Homer, S. Warren (Pitzman), 9:42; 8. Homer, Blakely (un.), sh, 11:13; 9. Homer, Kuzmin (un.), sh, 14:43. Penalties — Homer 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 10. Soldotna, Medcoff (Kline, Brantley III), 0:25; 11. Soldotna, Medcoff (un.), 4:24; 12. Soldotna, A. Montague (Medcoff, Urban), pp, 8:14; 13. Homer, Weston (un.), 8:49; 14. Homer, Williams (Dean, Menke), 10:38. Penalties — Homer 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 17-13-10—40; Soldotna 8-6-10—24.
Goalies — Homer, H. Warren (8 shots, 8 saves), Polushkin (6 shots, 6 saves), Roderick (10 shots, 7 saves); Soldotna, Powell (26 shots, 19 saves), Wirz (14 shots, 10 saves).