Heading into Saturday, the Kenai Central and Soldotna high school hockey teams were locked in a tie for third in the North Star Conference standings with equal 5-4 records, putting greater emphasis on what is already a must-see matchup between the two schools.
In what turned out to be a classic, Soldotna prevailed in overtime 4-3 and beat Kenai for the third playoff spot at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
SoHi senior Nick Wrobel notched the game-winner 37 seconds into the eight-minute overtime period when he received a pass from behind the net from Ty Fenton and slipped it in to secure the win. The goal was made all the more special on a night that celebrated the senior class from both squads.
“It’s amazing, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wrobel said.
Wrobel’s last goal was his second of the night after notching the first score of the game in the first period. SoHi took the initial lead but Kenai scored all three of its goals in the period.
“The power play was huge for us,” Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said. “We had two on the night, and our guys did a great job moving the puck around, and when we got in there we had a nice play to get to the puck and push it out front, and it was a great shot by Wrobel to finish it.”
The Stars scored twice on five power-play advantages, while Kenai scored on its only power play of the night.
That came after SoHi took an early lead, as Jake Eubank took advantage only 12 seconds into the power play on a long range shot that careened past SoHi goalie Cody Harvey to tie the game up. With 1 minute, 21 seconds, left in the first, it was Dalton Dosko’s goal that gave the Kards a 2-1 lead, and TJ Wagoner padded the lead to 3-1 with 13 seconds left by stealing the puck from the Stars defense and whipping it in from the left wing.
“We just had a letdown there, they got the power-play goal, which was a huge momentum swing,” Swanson said. “It was a case of our guys digging a little deeper at the start of the second period.”
The second period was dictated by the Stars, as Jacob O’Lena cracked a long range shot 1:19 into the period that closed the deficit up. Then Toma Johnson knotted the game up on a power play midway through the period — a 3-3 tie that stuck until the end of regulation.
The extra play was preceded by a wild third period that saw a few outstanding saves by both goalies — Justin Alvey of Kenai and Harvey of SoHi — that had the large, boisterous crowd on its feet. The period was highlighted in particular by a play with 7:39 left that began when two Kenai defenders lost the puck in the Soldotna zone, leaving Soldotna’s Toma Johnson on a one-on-one rush with Alvey, who took off from the goal in a race to the puck. Alvey barely reached the puck first to avoid a goal, but the two players viciously collided near the Kenai bench. After a few nervous seconds, both got up and returned to action.
“He took a good hit there, and shook it off and got right back into it and played an outstanding game,” said Kenai coach Pete Iverson. “I always hope every one of my players play with that kind of enthusiasm.”
Swanson called a timeout with 2:12 remaining to sort things out, then Iverson took a timeout with 1:49 left. But Kenai’s biggest mistake was a boarding penalty with 39 seconds left in regulation.
“They had the momentum, and it was a bad time to get a penalty for us,” Iverson said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.
“I told them to keep playing our game and keep the puck moving forward, and keep your heads on straight.”
With 1:21 of a power play left, the Stars attacked right from the drop of the puck in overtime, and Wrobel managed to find the net at the most opportune time.
“We got pumped before overtime,” Wrobel said. “We got out there and I got out with my line. We dumped it and we got it behind the net, and I yelled for the puck and got it and the open shot.”
The senior night festivities took place during the two intermission periods, as eight Kenai seniors were recognized in the first intermission, and four Soldotna seniors were recognized in the second. Kenai’s seniors are Troy Summers, Kier Wilshuen, Caleb Caldwell, Justin Alvey, Isaac Mese, Kyle Olson, Nathan Zorbas and TJ Wagoner. Soldotna’s seniors are Cody Harvey, Hunter Lott, Jacob O’Lena and Nick Wrobel.
Soldotna improved its conference record to 6-4 while Kenai dropped to 5-5. Wasilla leads the conference with Colony in second place.
Stars 4, Kardinals 3, OT
Soldotna 1 2 0 1 —4
Kenai 3 0 0 0 —3
1st period — 1. Soldotna, Wrobel (Fenton), 6:55; 2. Kenai, Eubank (Zorbas, Wagoner) pp, 8:25; 3. Kenai, Dosko (Wagoner), 13:39; 4. Kenai, Wagoner (unassisted) 14:47. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 5. Soldotna, O’Lena (Fenton), 1:19; 6. Soldotna, Johnson (O’Lena) pp, 7:59. Penalties — Kenai 3 for 6:00.
3rd period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 7. Soldotna, Wrobel (Weeks, Fenton) pp, :37.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 4-10-10-1—25; Kenai 9-9-7—25.
Goalies — Soldotna, Harvey (25 shots, 22 saves); Kenai, Alvey (25 shots, 21 saves).
Power plays — Soldotna 2 of 5; Kenai 1 of 1.