The Kenai Central Kardinals dropped the puck on a new era of prep hockey Thursday night at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.
With a generous home crowd and Kenai mayor Brian Gabriel dropping the ceremonial first puck, the Kards played a North Star Conference contest at the rink for the first time ever. The matchup with the Colony Knights was the first varsity contest played on Kenai’s true home ice since the rink was opened in 1999.
Sitting a stone’s throw away from the high school, the rink has served the youth of the Kenai hockey community well for the past decade and a half, but listed home games for the Kardinals have always been held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in the next town, and “home” games against SoHi never had the true feel of home crowds, according to Kardinals head coach Michael Tilly.
“It’s a little different for our guys,” Tilly said.
Unfortunately, the home fans will have to wait another day to see a Kenai victory. Colony drubbed the Kards 14-0 to pick up the conference victory.
Kenai junior Jakeb O’Brien, a co-captain on the team, is one of several Kenai players that have spent countless hours since their youth practicing and skating on the ice. Since moving with his family from Juneau at age 8, O’Brien, now 17, has been a part of the Kenai hockey scene, and Thursday night’s contest simply felt right to him.
“It’s nice to be here on home ice, representing your city,” O’Brien said. “Friends and fans want to come out and support the home team. We’ve spent hours here working, grinding.
“It’s nice to be playing here.”
Thursday night was a good time to test the support for the Kenai program too, as the frigid, single-digit temperatures found their way into the building, the bleachers were kept comfortably warm with heated air from above and below. On the other side of the rink, the team benches were also kept relatively warm, but the rink was cold.
O’Brien said the colder-than-normal temps keep the ice harder and faster to skate on, which combined with the smaller rink — the Soldotna Sports Complex is Olympic-sized rink while Kenai’s is NHL-sized — produced another element to contend with.
“(Colony) isn’t used to the ice yet,” he said. “When they play up in Anchorage and the Valley, they’re on softer ice and their skates dig in deeper, so it’s slower.”
With help from the Kenai booster club and other donors, the Multipurpose Facility was able to keep the fans engaged with a diesel-powered heater that connected to the stands from outside the building.
“I stepped outside for a few minutes, and it was noticeably warmer inside,” Tilly added. “Their efforts were beneficial.”
As for the on-ice action, the Knights showed who was still No. 1 among conference teams.
Otto Thiele scored a hat trick for the Knights, who also got a pair of goals each from Foster Riekena and Jake Kirsch. The remainder of Colony’s goals came from Wyatt Vrana, Mitchell Diltz, Te’sean Evans, Zach Monaco, Bryce Crosta, Jake Hessinger and Alex Fike.
Cole Doss picked up the win between the pipes for Colony, earning a 13-save shutout. Ryan Williams stood watch over Kenai’s net, stopping 33 of 47 shots.
Before the first goal of the night came from Thiele nine minutes in, Kenai kept Colony honest. The Kards put several shots on goal in the opening minutes of the game while frustrating Colony on the other end.
However, Thiele crashed the net and slipped in a rebound to start the barrage. Vrana followed it up 1:45 later with a shot low that made it under Williams for a 2-0 lead, and Diltz scored less than a minute later to make it 3-0, which stood until the first intermission.
Colony scored five more in the second period to effectively ice the game.
Wasilla 7, Soldotna 0
Alex Engan had a hat trick in the first period as the Warriors cruised past the Stars on Thursday in North Star Conference action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Aaron Campbell had the shutout in net for Wasilla, making 20 saves.
Porter Schachle added a second-period goal, while Austin Stephens, Russell Harren and Garrett Conroy scored in the third.
Billy Yoder had 35 saves for the Stars.
Palmer 3, Homer 0
The Moose scored three times in the third period to notch a North Star Conference victory Thursday at Homer.
Noah Keil, Jaron Ketterman and Darian Wilson had goals in the third period for Palmer, which got a 30-save shutout from Cody Grogan.
Hunter Warren made 21 saves for the Mariners.
Homer hosts Colony at 4 p.m. today and Wasilla at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Knights 14, Kardinals 0
Colony 3 5 6 — 14
Kenai 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. Colony, Theile (Smith), 9:00; 2. Colony, Vrana (Avoletta), 10:45; 3. Colony, Riekena (Cole), 11:25.
Second period — 4. Colony, Theile (Riekena, Avoletta), PP, 1:19; 5. Colony, Riekena (Theile), PP, 6:54; 6. Colony, Theile (Crosta, Smith), PP, 8:41; 7. Colony, Kirsch (Cole, Evans), 9:09; 8. Colony, Evans (Ewing, Cole), 10:20.
Third period — 9. Colony, Kirsch (Theile), 2:58; 10. Colony, Monaco (unassisted), SH, 4:52; 11. Colony, Crosta (Smith), 7:15; 12. Colony, Hessinger (Evans, Smith), 7:45; 13. Colony, Riekena (Avoletta), 8:55; 14. Colony, Fike (Kirsch), 14:32.
Shots on goals — Colony 14-19-14—47; Kenai 11-14-8—33.
Goalies — Colony, Doss (13 shots, 13 saves); Kenai, Williams (47 shots, 33 saves).
Warriors 7, Stars 0
Wasilla 3 1 3 — 7
Soldotna 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. Wasilla, Engan (Conroy, Stephens), 2:45; 2. Wasilla, Engan (Schachle, Clark), 13:32; 3. Wasilla, Engan (un.), 14:51. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Wasilla, Schachle (Harren), 3:17. Penalties — Wasilla 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Wasilla, Stephens (Gudz, Dollick), 8:27; 6. Wasilla, Harren (Schachle, Clark), 11:45; 7. Wasilla, Conroy (Abbott), 13:04. Penalties — Wasilla 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goals — Wasilla 16-15-11—42; Soldotna 8-4-8—20.
Goalies — Wasilla, Campbell (20 shots, 20 saves); Soldotna, Yoder (42 shots, 35 saves).
Moose 3, Mariners 0
Palmer 0 0 3 — 3
Homer 0 0 0 — 0
First period — none.
Second period — none.
Third period — 1. Palmer, Keil (Ketterman), 1:02; 2. Palmer, Ketterman (Wilson), 5:13; 3. Palmer, Wilson (un.), 5:31.
Shots on goal — Palmer 2-14-8—24; Homer 10-8-12—30.