A night where nearly everything went right for the Soldotna hockey team started with Dalton Pearson being wrong.
In the first period of SoHi’s 6-1 North Star Conference victory over rival Kenai Central on Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center, the Stars went on the power play with 12 minutes, 46 seconds left.
Early in the power play, the puck shot across the front of the net and bounced to Pearson, who wound up and promptly missed a wide-open net.
“That was bad,” Pearson said.
It could have been worse. A miss like that can set the tone for the game, especially against a tough goalie like Kenai’s Keegan Remsen. But with 11:34 left in the first period, Pearson got another chance and this time gave his squad a 1-0 lead.
“I think that was really important for me,” Pearson said. “After missing that empty net, I thought it was going to be all downhill for the rest of the game.”
Instead, the night ended with the Stars dog-piling into a hill of bodies at the end of the game. The Stars finished their regular season at 8-2-0 in the conference, earning the top seed for the conference tourney they will host at the sports center from Thursday through Saturday. SoHi also moves to 3-0-1 against Kenai Central with the most lopsided victory in the series this year.
“I think it was a combination of things,” SoHi coach Aaron Swanson said of the dog pile. “It was senior night, and it’s always exciting to beat Kenai. We also clinched the No. 1 seed.”
Swanson talked it over with Pat Nolden, a longtime coach in the program, and the two said they didn’t think the Stars had been the No. 1 seed at the tournament since the 1990s.
“That’s what we are going for all along,” Swanson said.
Hunter Lott tipped in a goal for Soldotna with 8:31 left in the first period before Jake Eubank cut the lead to 2-1 on a turnover in the Soldotna zone. SoHi used a team effort to pull away from there.
The Stars got goals from five different players — Pearson had two power-play tallies while Shayne Miller, Dagen Walton and Jonas Perletti added scores. Jarrett Urban had three assists, and 12 Stars earned points on the night.
“We get good contributions from our top guys, but we feel like anyone can contribute,” Swanson said. “That includes our three or four lines and our defensemen.”
Despite the lopsided final score, the Kards were able to put 39 shots on net compared to SoHi’s 42. SoHi’s Cody Harvey made 31 saves on 32 shots, while backup Nate O’Lena stopped all eight shots he saw. The 5-foot-2, 125-pound freshman also had the misfortune of being on the bottom of the dog pile.
“We’ve just got to start putting the puck in the net,” Kenai coach Pete Iverson said. “We outshot them in the first period.”
Despite all the offensive success, Swanson said the team’s success started with Harvey’s work in net and solid defense.
“The defense was always tying guys up in front of the net,” Harvey said. “They did a good job.”
The win gives SoHi momentum as it heads into the conference tournament.
“They’re playing really good right now,” Iverson said of the Stars. “They’re one of the teams to beat for regions. They’ve got a good, strong power play and they have a good group of kids.”
Iverson, who credited Remsen, Zack Zulkanycz and Zack Mese with strong games, said his team will look to regroup Saturday against Homer. The Kards are 2-6-1 in the conference and will be the No. 5 seed no matter what happens against the Mariners, who will be No. 6.
Stars 6, Kardinals 1
First period — 1. Soldotna, D. Pearson (Urban, Hegge), pp, 3:26; 2. Soldotna, Lott (J. O’Lena), 6:29; 3. Kenai, Eubank (un.), 8:35. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Soldotna, Walton (Hegge, Urban), 1:45; 5. Soldotna, Perletti (D. Pearson, Kerkvliet), 2:50; 6. Soldotna, Pearson (Urban, Stone), pp, 11:34. Penalties — Kenai 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Soldotna, Miller (Fenton, Erickson), 7:08. Penalties — Kenai 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai 12-12-15—39; Soldotna 10-19-13—42.
Goalies — Kenai, Remsen (42 shots, 36 saves); Soldotna, Harvey (31 shots, 30 saves), N. O’Lena (8 shots, 8 saves).