After not scoring in its previous three North Star Conference games, the Soldotna hockey team closed out the regular season with a 3-1 victory over Kenai Central on Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Stars finished 4-2-4 in the North Star Conference, which will be good for the No. 2 seed when the conference tourney starts Thursday in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys.
After Homer’s 6-2 victory over Kenai on Saturday at the sports center, in which Tommy Bowe led the charge with a hat trick, the final NSC standings are set.
Wasilla is No. 1 with a 10-0 record, while Colony and Homer are tied at 4-4-2. Tiebreakers will be needed to separate the two. Kenai is the fifth seed at 2-7-1, while Palmer is sixth at 1-8-1.
Soldotna wasted just 21 seconds in getting off of the NSC scoring schneid Friday when Nick Wrobel found Jonas Perletti for a goal.
“That was a great start for us,” said SoHi’s Dalton Pearson. “That got the whole team excited. That was exactly what we needed.”
SoHi coach Aaron Swanson had talked to his team before the game about getting off to a quick start, and his team responded by putting up 19 shots to Kenai’s five in the first period.
“SoHi always comes out quick,” Kenai coach Pete Iverson said after falling to 2-6-1 in the conference. “They’re a fast team and they create fast turnovers.”
Kenai goaltender Justin Alvey stood strong in the face of the first-period onslaught. Iverson said Alvey has improved his consistency, and that showed in the first period.
“We would have liked to score a few more goals, but we were creating opportunities,” SoHi coach Aaron Swanson said. “If we keep creating opportunities like that, sooner or later the puck is going to go into the net more.”
Swanson continued to be happy with the effort and execution in the second and third period, but his team was not as dominant. SoHi had 17 shots in the final two periods, while Kenai had 12.
This was not the same Kenai team that SoHi rolled over by scores of 12-2 in November and 8-4 in December.
“A lot of the kids are showing greater hockey skill,” Iverson said. “They’re also playing more as a team and playing for each other. They are staying in the system.”
Kenai tied the game with 4:53 left in the second period. TJ Wagoner got the puck and skated through the middle of the defense, earning a point-plank shot on SoHi goalie Nate O’Lena. Jake Eubank and Nathan Zorbas earned assists on the goal, which broke a three-game NSC shutout streak for the Stars.
But Pearson gave the Kards little time to celebrate. Just 33 seconds later, he crossed the blue line and unleashed a massive slap shot that snuck past Alvey on the glove side. Jarrett Urban was credited with the assist.
“I knew we would have to come back quickly or they would get too much confidence,” Pearson said.
With 1:05 left in the second, Pearson continued to deflate the Kards’ confidence when he brought the puck up the right side and slipped it across the crease to a wide-open Urban for a goal.
In hockey, teams never like to give up goals right after they have scored, or in the final two minutes of the period. Pearson made both happen to Kenai.
“Those were the game-changers,” Iverson said. “He played really good tonight.”
The third period saw Kenai’s Connor Johnson and SoHi’s Shayne Miller clang shots off the pipe, but O’Lena and Alvey were able to keep clean slates.
Both teams had their senior nights, although Kenai was the home team.
Swanson said all his seniors played in a way befitting the occasion of putting on the SoHi sweater for the last time in the sports center. The SoHi seniors honored were Jonathan Granger, Bryan Hahn, Shayne Miller, Pearson, Perletti, Connor Schoessler, Matti Silta and Urban.
Kenai honored seniors Andrew Hamilton, Lee Kempf, Hydn McDermott-Johnston, Collin Morse and Don Chenault. Goalie Ben Mills also would have been honored except he was out of town due to a personal matter.
Iverson said he liked the way the Wagoner-Eubank-Dalton Dosko line played in the third period. He also said Isaac Mese continues to improve at holding off defenders to get scoring chances.
Stars 3, Kardinals 1
Soldotna 1 2 0 —3
Kenai 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Soldotna, Perletti (Wrobel), 0:21. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai, Wagoner (Eubank, Zorbas), pp, 10:07; 3. Soldotna, Pearson (Urban), 10:40; 4. Soldotna, Urban (Pearson), 13:55. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 19-5-12—36; Kenai 5-4-8—17.
Goalies — Soldotna, O’Lena (17 shots, 16 saves); Kenai, Alvey (36 shots, 33 saves).