The Soldotna hockey team is a poster child for the parity that is the North Star Conference this season.
The No. 3 seed Stars (6-4 NSC) swept top seed Wasilla (7-2-1) but were swept by No. 2 seed Colony (7-2-1).
SoHi lost a nonconference game to No. 4 seed Kenai (5-5), but swept the NSC series from the Kards, including a 4-3 overtime victory Saturday.
SoHi was swept in NSC play by No. 5 seed Homer, and managed to beat No. 6 seed Palmer in a pair of one-goal games.
“Anything is possible, we feel like that going in,” said SoHi coach Aaron Swanson, who along with Wasilla is seeking a return trip to state. “We’re definitely a team that can compete for the championship.
“By the same token, any team can beat any team in the conference. The conference tournament is as tight as you’ll see in a while.”
The Stars drop the puck with the Moose to start the tournament at 5 p.m. at the Kevin Bell Ice Arena in Homer. The winner plays Colony on Friday in the semis. The two finalists earn the state berths.
Swanson said that two-thirds of his team’s games this year have been one-goal games. Soldotna even lost to high-powered Dimond 1-0.
“We’re not a very high-powered offense by any means,” said Swanson, whose squad lost to Wasilla 3-2 in last year’s NSC title game. “Our defense starts with goaltending and works its way out.”
Swanson said the tournament is about hot goaltending as much as anything, so he is happy to have Cody Harvey in the net. He said Jacob O’Lena and Justice Miller are key defenders, and Kenny Griffin, Nick Wrobel and Ty Fenton will have to provide some offense up front.
The Kards and Mariners face off at 7:30 p.m. today. The winner will then try and keep the Warriors from their fifth-straight trip to state Friday.
Kenai has defeated Homer three times this season, but the Mariners have the ability to stop the Kards.
The Kards scored a 5-2 victory over Homer in early November and a 5-3 win in mid-December. But then on Jan. 28, Kenai had to go to overtime to beat the host Mariners 6-5.
“You can’t go in there and let your guard down with them,” Kenai coach Pete Iverson said. “We were ahead by three goals in the third, and they put us into overtime with them just like that.
“They are on their home ice, so they will have that advantage.”
Iverson said Homer has a fun rink in which to play. He said the ice is hard and the fans make a lot of noise for the Mariners, which fires up the home team.
“We’re still struggling with consistency,” Iverson said. “That last Homer game is a great example.
“We came out and played two really good periods, then in the third period we let in three goals.”
Senior forward TJ Wagoner missed that Homer game, and Iverson will welcome him back along with the chemistry he has with linemates Jake Eubank and Dalton Dosko. Iverson said his second line of Ross Hanson, Isaac Mese and Cody Arbelovsky also has been clicking.
He said the defense also has settled into a solid five-man rotation made up of Nathan Zorbas, Michael Tilly, Conner Johnson, Kyle Olson and Riley Weber.
The coach also said he has two goalies he can lean on — Justin Alvey and Nate O’Lena.
But Iverson pointed out the Mariners also have a goalie — Markian Polushkin — that has been playing very well. He also said Tommy Bowe, who scored once in the last game, and Kiril Sanarov, who had two-third period goals, are very explosive players. Konstantin Reutov also had a pair of goals for Homer in the game.
“We’re looking forward to a good tournament,” Iverson said. “(John) Carlin has done a good job with the Homer team.”