A 5-0 loss to the Dimond Lynx on Saturday at the Curtis Menard Sports Complex ended the season and two coaching careers of the Soldotna Stars hockey team.
The Lynx officially claimed fourth place in the Alaska Schools Activities Association state hockey tournament, while the Stars finished sixth.
For head coach Aaron Swanson, Saturday’s fourth-place consolation tilt represented his final time manning the helm of the SoHi pucks squad, along with assistant coach Pat Nolden. Swanson said nothing felt different.
“When it’s game time, it’s game time,” he said. “It’s a matter of pure focus from the beginning to the end. Before the game, it was happy and relaxed, and the kids knew this was the end of the line regardless of the outcome. But once warmups started, it was all business.”
For Soldotna seniors Cody Harvey, Nick Wrobel, Jacob O’Lena and Hunter Lott, their high school careers ended along with the two coaches.
“We thought this was a year that was going to be a rebuilding year, especially with only four seniors,” Swanson said. “We weren’t counting on a lot of that senior leadership, so to speak, so we knew going in that it was a younger team and building year.”
Saturday’s matchup ended up being a lopsided battle, as the Lynx outshot the Stars 36-11 overall.
Dimond coach Dennis Sorenson said his squad was still smarting from Thursday’s 4-3 upset suffered at the hands of Wasilla. Dimond held an 18-3 season record entering the state tournament and were favored to win it all, but after dropping out early, the Lynx continued on to thrash West Valley 10-2 Friday, which left them with Saturday’s matchup with SoHi.
“I think our senior leadership took over the game with West Valley,” Sorenson said. “They’re a young team, and I think because of West Valley’s immaturity as far as being young, they didn’t recover as well as we did, and so it was a matter of our seniors taking over that game, and now this one.”
Dimond goalie Ashton Good recorded the shutout in goal with 11 saves. SoHi goalie Cody Harvey faced a lot of pressure all game long, saving 31 of 36 shots.
Earlier in the season, Dimond escaped with a 1-0 win over Soldotna, so Sorenson knew the Stars had the ability to keep it close.
“Ashton’s played well for us all year, and he just had a tough third period against Wasilla (on Thursday),” Sorenson said. “He took it hard, and he felt as a senior and a leader, we had to come back. I think he played well today.”
Dimond is loaded with 14 seniors this year, and the fire to finish the year strong, albeit with a fourth-place finish, kept Soldotna’s front lines back for much of the game.
Soldotna managed Dimond’s high-powered offense early, as Harvey face 13 shots while his teammates put only three shots on Good, but the Lynx eventually found a way past Harvey with a short-handed goal only 33 seconds before the end of the first period. Josh Larson took an assist from the right wing from Brandon Sakumoto and scored.
“For us, we feel like we can play with any team in the state,” Swanson said. “We just need to have the perfect game to beat some of the big-dog teams, our guys did a nice job of battling to the end.”
Dimond’s Chance Peters knocked in a slick assist from behind the net from Greg Pfeifer for Dimond’s second goal midway through the second period, but heading into the third, SoHi still only trailed 2-0. After what happened Thursday, the Lynx were not about to relax.
“We knew we were in for a challenge,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, and Dimond’s an outstanding team, but for us, the idea of every game is going out and competing.
“We just kept trying the whole game but the pressure they had on us in the defensive zone was a lot.”
Three quick goals in a span of 2 minutes, 49 seconds, put the game away in the third period, as Tyler Dunn, Tyler Briley and Aidan Teilborg each scored. Overall, all five Dimond goals were scored by five different players.
Swanson summed the year up by recognizing the uphill climb the Stars faced all year.
“Getting from where we started (going 0-3) and getting in the games to battling in the state tournament, it definitely was a case of us continuing to get better day by day,” he said.
Saturday in Wasilla
Lynx 5, Stars 0
Dimond 1 1 3 —5
Soldotna 0 0 0 —0
1st period — 1. Dimond, Larson (Sakumoto), sh, 14:27. Penalties — Dimond 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 2. Dimond, Peters (Pfeifer, Clevenger) 7:20. Penalties — Dimond 4 for 8:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
3rd period — 3. Dimond, Dunn (Garris) 5:54; 4. Dimond, Briley (Larson, Sakumoto) 6:42; 5. Dimond, Teilborg (Conley, Pfeifer) 8:43. Penalties — Dimond 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Dimond 15-9-12—36; Soldotna 3-6-2—11.
Goalies — Dimond, Good (11 shots, 11 saves); Soldotna, Harvey (36 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Dimond 0 for 2; Soldotna 0 for 5.