Although it was an endowment game and did not count toward the North Star Conference standings, the Kenai Central hockey team had to have felt good leaving the ice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday night after a 5-2 win over Homer.
For a team that had a 2-7-1 conference record in 2012 and was denied a state bid by Homer in last year’s regional tournament, Kenai started strong and held tough over the Mariners to unofficially get their season underway.
“It’s always good to get a win and get the bugs and jitters shaken out,” said Kenai coach Pete Iverson.
Kenai freshman Ross Hanson had a nice debut with two goals, including the first one of the night just 4 minutes, 48 seconds, into the game that he got off an errant bounce that left him with a shot at an open net.
“I just got lucky there on that first one,” Hanson said. “The (Homer) guy bobbled the pass and I was able to get a shot off.
“The second one there was good teamwork with Baxter in the corner, and I got another lucky shot there.”
Junior Jake Eubank added two goals as well, and sophomore Conner Johnson tallied a goal as well. Garrett Butcher and Tommy Bowe secured both of Homer’s goals.
“It was teamwork and a good effort,” Hanson said. “Everywhere I play, the guys are looking out for me, and we’re all looking out for each other.”
Hanson’s early goal eventually led to a second by Eubank with less than two minutes left in the first period, and it was clear that the Kards held the early advantage. Kenai outshot Homer 13-5 in the first stanza.
However, Homer returned to the ice in the second period determined to fight back, and halfway through the period, Clem Tillion provided an assist from the left corner that Butcher put away past Kenai goalie Justin Alvey. Alvey saved 16 of 17 shots in two periods of play, while former SoHi goalie Nate O’Lena saved 11 of 12 in the third period. Homer goalie Markian Poushkin saved 29 of 34 shots on goal.
“We slowed down in the second period, and they jumped on it,” Iverson said. “Homer is always fast, that’s their thing, it’s speed. But our guys worked hard and stayed in it, and it was a good opener.
“We were able to keep them from gaining momentum.”
Were it not for a couple of missed opportunities, Homer coach John Carlin said the Mariners might have scored more than two goals, since Homer outshot Kenai 18-12 in the second period.
“We’re evenly benched, these two teams,” said Carlin. “We had some jitters, it’s the first game, we’re traveling and getting used to that deal. I just think that we needed to finish our checks a little more, we weren’t winning races to the puck. We need to anticipate where the puck’s going to be and be there.
“We were kind of reactive, not anticipatory.”
Homer continued to press in the third period, getting a goal from Bowe with 1:47 left and outshooting the Kards 12-9, but Kenai answered quickly with a goal from Eubank just 16 seconds later with assists from Dalton Dosko and Riley Weber. Earlier in the third, Johnson notched his lone goal to put Kenai up 4-1.
Kenai faces West Valley on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. as part of the Peninsula Ice Challenge tournament at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Kenai 5, Homer 2
Tuesday, Soldotna Regional Sports Complex
First period — 1. Kenai, Hanson (unassisted) pp, 4:48; 2. Kenai, Eubank (Tilly, Wagoner) 13:19. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Homer, Butcher (C. Tillion) 7:22; 4. Kenai, Hanson (Cox, Johnson) 14:28. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai, Johnson (Dosko, Wagoner) 1:57; 6. Homer, Bowe (unassisted) 13:13; 7. Kenai, Eubank (Dosko, Weber) 13:29. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal: Kenai 13-12-9—34, Homer 5-18-12—35. Saves: Kenai, Alvey 5-11—16, O’Lena 11. Homer, Poushkin 11-11-7—29.