The Kenai Central hockey team defeated Soldotna 6-3 on Saturday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to win the Peninsula Ice Challenge.
The Kards (3-0-1 overall) finished 2-0-1 at the tournament. Service finished 2-1, West Valley was 1-1-1 and Soldotna was 0-3.
Isaac Mese led the Kardinals with a hat trick, while Jake Eubank set up five of the goals for the Kardinals.
With 12:50 left in the first period, Kenai’s Austin Hibbert started the scoing on an assist from Eubank. With 10:59 left, Mese made it 2-0, assisted by Eubank.
The Stars got on the board with 7:37 left in the first period. Nick Wrobel scored, assisted by Justice Miller and Jacob O’Lena.
However, with 2:23 left in the first, the Kards again got some breathing room. Mese scored, again assisted by Eubank. But with just 1:04 left in the first, Wrobel scored for a 3-2 score at the end of an action-packed first period.
Just 50 seconds into the second period, Nathan Zorbas ripped home a shot from the blue line, assisted by Eubank and Conner Johnson.
But Soldotna came right back to make it 4-3 when O’Lena scored on an assist from Wrobel less than a minute later.
After Soldotna failed to cash in on a five-on-three power play, Kenai took control of the game. Mese scored on an assist from Ross Hanson, and TJ Wagoner scored on an assist from Eubank.
Service 3, West Valley 1
The Cougars topped the Wolfpack in the afternoon game.
Service moved to 2-1 this season, while West Valley is now 2-1-1.
Kenai 4, Service 2
Friday, Kenai head coach Pete Iverson notched his first victory over Service. Iverson coached Skyview for about six years until that program dissolved after the 2005-06 season.
He is in his sixth year leading the Kards.
“This team is already coming together and working hard for each other,” Iverson said. “That’s great for this early in the season.”
Kenai entered the third period trailing 2-1, but tied the game early in the third and then scored twice in the final three minutes.
Service coach Joel Carter said four of his players didn’t make the trip down from Anchorage. In the second period, two of the team’s top six forwards — Lachlan Cockrell and Michael Stephens — went down to injury.
“We started asking third and fourth line guys to play top-six forward minutes,” Carter said. “It puts them in positions they are not accustomed to.”
The coach also was quick to credit the Kards.
“Kenai played a good game. Don’t take anything away from them,” he said. “They played with a lot of speed in the third period and at times we had a difficult time matching it.”
Freshman speed merchant Ross Hanson continued to fill up the scoresheet for the Kards. He assisted on a first-period goal from fellow freshman Baxter Cox, then scored twice in the third period — once on an assist from Conner Johnson and once unassisted.
Hanson now has five goals and an assist in his first three prep games.
Jake Eubank also scored in the third for the Kards, assisted by Johnson and Nathan Zorbas.
“The boys really rallied in the third,” Iverson said. “They showed the potential they have.”
Iverson said the top line of Eubank, TJ Wagoner and Dalton Dosko has been together for a season and it shows. The second line of Isaac Mese, Cox and Hanson, with Austin Hibbert filling in, has jelled quickly.
“Everyone is on the same page right now,” Dosko said. “We’re playing as a unit.”
Dosko said eight or nine players on the Kenai team went to nationals last spring with the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Assocation Tier II U-16 team. Team members also took full advantage of the summer ice at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.
Iverson said the defense also was solid. Jacob McVay scored in the first period for the Cougars, while Brad Kuper let a defenseman slide by and scored from a tight angle in the second.
Angus Krancher had 21 saves for Service, while Nate O’Lena made 18 saves for the Kards. Iverson said O’Lena let in a weak goal to start, but more than made up for it.
“Overall, he did outstanding,” the coach said. “When our team collapsed, he kept us in the game.”
West Valley 5, Soldotna 2
Gabe Rankin had two goals and an assist for the Wolfpack, who had a 5-1 lead with 6:40 to play in the game.
“We got rewarded for guys going to the net,” said West Valley head coach Wayne Sauchuk. “The average length of goal was 5 feet. That’s a good sign for us.”
That also is not a good sign for Soldotna. Stars coach Aaron Swanson said his team is young and inconsistent, but the good news is that when the team stays in the system, the system works.
“It’s a young team and they are having confidence issues,” Swanson said. “The more guys believe in each other, the better it will go.
“We are still working on building that confidence.”
Rankin scored the lone goal of the first period on the power play. Special teams had sputtered for the Wolfpack in a tie with Kenai on Thursday.
“We played a lot better than last night on the power play,” Sauchuk said. “We had a lot of success running the things we’ve been working on in practice.”
The beginning of the second period was one of those times when SoHi stuck to the system and had success. Toma Johnson capped a stretch of heavy pressure with a goal assisted by Nick Wrobel and Justice Miller.
But Casey Lewendowski and Ethan Daniels closed the second with goals. Then Zach Ahlers and Rankin solved SoHi goalie Cody Harvey in the third. Harvey had 23 saves, while Lane Wood stopped 15 pucks for West Valley.
“He definitely had a lot of traffic in front of him,” Swanson said of Harvey. “All the scores came from in tight.”
Johnson then got his second goal of the game with 2:07 to play.
“We knew he would be an important player coming in,” Swanson said. “He’s definitely a kid with a lot of speed and a nice shot.
“He creates a lot of opportunities for us.”
Kardinals 4, Cougars 2
Service 1 1 0 —2
Kenai 1 0 3 —4
First period — 1. Service, McVay (Stephens), 6:08; 2. Kenai, Cox (Hanson), 10:42. Penalties — Service 2 for 4:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Service, Kuper (Karcz, Vukasin), 12:35. Penalties — Service 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai, Hanson (Johnson), 10:42; 5. Kenai, Eubank (Johnson, Zorbas), 12:37; 6. Kenai, Hanson (un.), 13:56. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Service 6-10-4—20; Kenai 5-12-8—25.
Goalies — Service, A. Klancher (25 shots, 21 saves); Kenai, Nate O’Lena (20 shots, 18 saves).
Wolfpack 5, Stars 2
West Valley 1 2 2 —5
Soldotna 0 1 1 —2
First period — 1. West Valley, Daniels (Rankin, Skorulski), 10:28. Penalties — West Valley 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Soldotna, Johnson (Wrobel, Miller), 3:42; 3. West Valley, Lewendowski (Olsen, Taylor), 5:56; 4. West Valley, Daniels (Rankin), 10:46. Penalties — West Valley 2 for 12:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. West Valley, Ahlers (Skorulski), 1:42; 6. West Valley, Rankin (Ahlers, Arpino), 8:20; 7. Soldotna, Johnson (un.), 12:53. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — West Valley 9-11-8—28; Soldotna 7-8-2—17.
Goalies — West Valley, Wood (17 shots, 15 saves); Kenai River, Harvey (28 shots, 23 saves).