Kevin Stone may not be a prolific scorer, but he sure makes his goals count.
The senior defenseman broke a 2-all, third-period tie with his third career goal, propelling the Soldotna hockey team past rival Kenai Central 3-2 Tuesday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Stars (10-4-1, 4-1) move into a three-way tie with Palmer and Colony for the top spot in the Northstar Conference, while the Kards drop to 4-9-2 overall and 1-3-1.
Both teams are off for two weeks for the holidays.
“It’s a lot easier to take a couple weeks off when you go in with a win rather than a loss,” SoHi coach Aaron Swanson said. “We’ll see what happens. January is always crazy.”
One player who can rest easy during the break is Stone, who is quickly becoming a thorn in the side for Kenai Central.
In addition to registering the game-winner Tuesday, the SoHi co-captain notched the equalizer in a 3-all tie against the Kards in the final game of the Peninsula Ice Challenge earlier this season.
That goal came with 28 seconds remaining in the game, and it gave the Stars the Ice Challenge trophy.
But which goal was sweeter?
“This one probably ranks higher up,” Stone said, grinning. “This one ranks No. 1.”
Stone’s winner came with 7:59 to play, as he took the puck at the point and slapped a fast shot past Kenai Central goaltender Keegan Remsen, who made 37 saves.
The strike came less than a minute after Russell Dukowitz was denied by SoHi goalie Cody Harvey on what appeared to be a sure goal from close range.
“I just tried to get it on net and it happened to go in,” Stone said.
Harvey, who made 25 saves, did the rest on a night there were no penalties, an occurrence both coaches said they had never seen.
SoHi controlled the puck for the better part of the contest, outshooting Kenai Central 28-15 through two periods, but Kenai Central never went away.
Max Hegge gave the Stars a 1-0 lead with 1:16 to play in the first when he took a pass from Dalton Pearson and buried a one-timer from straightaway.
Pearson then lit the lamp unassisted less than a minute into the second, giving SoHi a 2-0 cushion.
That’s when the Kards came to life.
TJ Wagoner cut the lead in half with a nifty move in traffic on assists from Jake Eubank and Zack Mese at the 9:50 mark of the second.
Zack Mese then evened the score when he took the puck nearly the length of the ice and finished an off-balance shot as he fell to his left, finishing an assist from Isaac Mese with 7:22 remaining in the frame.
That set the stage for Stone, who is known more for his work on the back line than he is for scoring.
That left Swanson impressed.
“He just blasted a laser right into the net, just a great shot,” the coach said. “I’m assuming Remsen never saw it and it went right in.”
The Stars are in prime position entering the latter part of the season.
Swanson said the key to the first half of the season was depth. The Stars consistently played three different lines, all of which the coach said were productive.
“In the beginning of the season everyone thought we would be a one-line team,” Swanson said. “But we’ve come out with three lines and have been able to push teams and push teams in the third period.”
Meanwhile, the Kards looked better than they did last weekend, when they lost by combined score of 18-1 to South and Service.
Coach Pete Iverson said there’s a lot of room for improvement, but the team took away plenty of positives from Tuesday’s contest.
“It’s always fun when we play SoHi,” Iverson said. “You always want to get the win, but it was a good, close game.”
Stars 3, Kardinals 2
Soldotna 1 1 1 --3
Kenai Central 0 2 0 --2
First period – 1. Soldotna, Hegge (Pearson), 13:44. Penalties – none.
Second period – 2. Soldotna, Pearson (unassisted), 0:37; 3. Kenai Central, Wagoner (Eubank, Z. Mese), 5:10; 4. Kenai Central, Z. Mese (I. Mese), 7:38. 5. Penalties – none.
Third period – 5. Soldotna, Stone (Kerkvliet), 7:01. Penalties – none.
Penalties – none.
Shots on goal – Soldotna (15-13-12—40); Kenai Central (7-8-12—27).
Goalies – Soldotna, Harvey (27 shots, 25 saves); Kenai Central (40 shots, 37 saves).