The whistle sounded to end Friday's state consolation semifinal between Soldotna and Lathrop, and instead of regrouping for an overtime period, as they have for three straight games, the Stars got to walk off the ice with the win already clinched.
Soldotna rallied from an early deficit to beat Lathrop 2-1 at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex in Wasilla, extending their season one more day to Saturday's fourth-place game against Dimond at 9 a.m.
Nick Wrobel scored the gamewinner with just over six minutes remaining in the third period, getting the puck in front of the Malamutes net and popping it in for the go-ahead goal.
"Yeah we expected to go to overtime there," Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said with a laugh. "The final buzzer sounded and we didn't know what to do."
After letting in a goal before three minutes were up in the first period, SoHi goalie Cody Harvey stayed perfect the rest of the way, stopping 17 of 18 shots total. Harvey nearly had a shutout in Thursday's loss as well, stopping almost 30 shots before Chugiak scored to force overtime.
"I felt like it was a pretty slow game," Harvey said. "Compared to yesterday it was slow. I mean, I only got 18 shots."
After the early goal by Lathrop's Tristen Ramaker, SoHi continued to show the sluggish form they have displayed in the first period of recent games.
"I would say it was a case of the kids were just happy to be here," Swanson said. "It took us a while to wake up and get going, but the second period we woke them up and we just played a totally different game in the second period."
After getting outshot by Lathrop in the first period, Soldotna quickly turned things around with a goal only 15 seconds into the second frame. Justice Miller pushed the puck forward from behind the net and into the waiting hands of Kenny Griffin, who shoveled it cleanly into the net to knot the game up.
SoHi continued to press throughout the second stanza, outshooting the Malamutes 13-8.
"Our coach usually comes in and gets us riled up, and we come out a little better," Harvey said. "It's the end of the season, so I want to play another game because I'm a senior."
In the third period, it increasingly looked like the Stars were headed towards another overtime contest, but with six minutes, eight seconds, left in the game, Wrobel intercepted a pass from a Lathrop defender in front of the net and scored the gamewinner on Lathrop goalie Ryan Ebenal.
From there, the onus was on Harvey to preserve the victory.
"I just got to stop everything, no matter what," Harvey said. "Don't let any sloppy rebounds out."
For the Stars, all that remains now is one last game of the season, which doubles as Swanson and Pat Nolden's last hockey game as members of the coaching staff.
"It's nice to earn the right to play a game on Saturday," Swanson said. "For us, it's really just a great opportunity for us to continue the season another day, and hopefully we'll play another tight game tomorrow."
Friday in Wasilla
Stars 2, Malamutes 1
Soldotna 0 1 1 —2
Lathrop 1 0 0 —1
1st period — 1. Lathrop, Ramaker (Walker) 2:16. Penalties — Lathrop 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 2. Soldotna, Griffin (Miller) pp, :15. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Lathrop 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 3. Soldotna, Wrobel (unassisted) 8:52. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 4-9-5—18; Lathrop 6-2-10—18.
Goalies — Soldotna, Harvey (18 shots, 17 saves); Lathrop, Ebenal (18 shots, 16 saves).
Power plays — Soldotna 1 for 2; Lathrop 0 for 2.