A lot of tournaments claim to have parity. But when the No. 2 seed has a record of 4-2-4 in league play? That’s parity.
The North Star Conference tournament begins today with two games at the Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla. No. 4 seed Homer takes on No. 5 seed Kenai at 5 p.m. before No. 3 seed Colony faces off with No. 6 seed Palmer at 7:15 p.m.
No. 1 seed Wasilla and No. 2 seed Soldotna both have first-round byes and jump into action Friday. The North Star Conference gets two berths to state, so both teams in Saturday’s championship earn the right to extend their seasons.
“It’s kind of going to be one of those tournaments where whoever gets the hot hand with goaltending will be the team that moves on,” Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”
A goalie from each team in the league has an NSC shutout this season, meaning fans might want to bring extra snacks to the games.
Wasilla has had the clear upper hand in the league with a 10-0 record. While coaches don’t dispute the power of the Warriors, they also say Wasilla is not unbeatable. In early January, Wasilla beat Soldotna 4-3 and edged Homer 3-2, two of the four one-goal wins the Warriors have in the league this year.
But starting with No. 2 seed Soldotna is where parity has reigned. After that close loss to Wasilla, Soldotna played Palmer and Colony to scoreless ties in the same weekend. The Stars get the Colony-Palmer winner at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
The Stars’ next conference game, with Homer, also ended in a scoreless tie. Soldotna closed its conference season by defeating Kenai Central 3-1 on Friday.
“It’s always an exciting tournament,” Kenai coach Pete Iverson said after Friday’s loss. “It seems like everybody is reaching their peak heading into the tournament.”
Homer, which has a 4-4-2 record in the league, showed it is the favorite in today’s opener when it topped Kenai 6-2 on Saturday at the sports center.
But the Kards (2-7-1 NSC) have improved a lot from the beginning of the season, when the Mariners hit them with a 10-3 blowout.
Iverson said after Friday’s game his team is playing much better because it has bought into the system and because players are playing for each other.
Swanson also likes the way the team is playing, particularly on defense.
Goalie Cody Harvey has a string of three straight conference shutouts going into the tourney, since backup Nate O’Lena played Friday against the Kards.
“Defense is the core of the team,” Swanson said. “Everybody, not just goalies and defensemen, is committed to defense.”
Swanson said defensemen Matti Silta and Jake O’Lena will continue to be pivotal.
The big question is scoring.
“It’s something we’ve been working on,” Swanson said. “When our guys are in the offensive zone, they have to be working with purpose, rather than just throwing shots on the net.”
The coach said that forwards such as Dalton Pearson, Jarrett Urban, Shayne Miller, Nick Wrobel, Kenny Griffin and Jonas Perletti are all scoring threats.
With so much parity, Soldotna appears to have caught a break by getting to skip a day of play. But last season, SoHi earned the top seed in the tournament only to lose in its first game.
“It was our goal all along to get a first-round bye,” Swanson said. “But it could be said it’s a disadvantage, because other teams are warmed up and you’re coming in there fresh.”