The Homer hockey team made a big statement this weekend, and division opponents are taking notice.
In a first for the Mariners, the squad swept all three Mat-Su Valley opponents they faced, including a first-ever program win over Wasilla on Thursday. Homer toppled Colony 2-1 in overtime on Friday and beat Palmer 3-1 Saturday at the Kevin Bell Ice Arena, capping a 3-0 weekend with its ninth straight victory.
“Honestly, we’re on cloud nine,” said first-year Homer coach Chance Rockett. “We had a goal at the beginning of year to be competitive against teams like Colony and Wasilla.
“After today, our sight is set on a much higher goal at this point. We took a big leap forward.”
Homer leads the North Star Conference at 3-0 and is 10-2 overall this season, including a 6-0 mark at home.
The success marks a big turnaround for the Homer hockey program, which hasn’t ever swept their northern conference rivals in a weekend. Rockett said he believes the case can be made for Homer being ranked among the top five schools in the state, giving a nod to South Anchorage as the top team currently, while Dimond, West, Service and West Valley all can be clumped in the mix with Homer.
“I think we made a really big statement for our case,” he said. “We’re looking at a state level now.”
After finishing with one conference win all of last year, the Mariners managed to triple that mark in one weekend, all before the holidays. Rockett said Thursday’s win over Wasilla was emotionally gratifying, especially for former head coach John Carlin, who watched the game from the sidelines.
“That was probably the coolest moment about it,” Rockett said. “There’s this guy banging on the glass, and all the kids go over there and bang on the glass, and there’s Carlin with tears running down his face and so ecstatically pumped.”
After giving up the night’s first goal to Wasilla, the Mariners responded emphatically with three goals in a two-minute span to stamp their authority on the game. Rockett said the Mariners were able to take over with speed, rather than physicality.
“I wouldn’t say we dominated them, but it was a hard-fought game,” he said. “Instead of our kids getting down from the physicality, we blew right by them with speed.”
Friday, the Mariners escaped with a thrilling 2-1 overtime win over Colony. Ethan Pitzman was able to knock in the game-winner with 10.6 seconds left in the eight-minute overtime period.
Rockett said Charlie Menke’s initial shot on goal glanced off the goaltender and right to Pitzman, who was able to put it away to complete the victory.
“It was so surreal, such an amazing moment,” Rockett said. “The place just went absolutely wild.”
After Colony opened the scoring 7:59 into the game with a shot from Jake Hessinger, Homer responded early in the second with a goal from Isaiah Nevak that knotted the game up with help from Tyler Gilliland and Lee Lowe. The tie lasted until the end to force overtime.
Rockett said Colony turned up the physicality after having success on the penalty kill against Homer, but it also left the Knights with too many man disadvantages that cost them in their pursuit to retake the lead.
Homer was charged with a tripping penalty just 34 seconds into the extra period, and after killing it off, Rockett said the momentum changed.
“They got an open opportunity in the slot, hit the post, and we came back down the ice,” he said. “We had them in their zone for a minute, and we got it.”
Homer capped a 3-0 weekend with a 3-1 win Saturday over Palmer. Homer took the first lead with a goal from Pitzman in the first period, but the Moose tied it up just 26 seconds from the intermission horn.
The tie game didn’t last long, as Tim Blakely got a stick on the puck and popped in a go-ahead goal with a second remaining.
Lee Lowe scored an insurance goal three minutes into the third period to ice the victory. Homer goalie Hunter Warren stopped 23 of 24 shots on goal.
Mariners 2, Knights 1 (OT)
Colony 1 0 0 0 —1
Homer 0 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Colony, Hessinger (Riekena, Diltz), 7:59. Penalties — Colony 3 for 9:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Homer, Nevak (Gilliland, Lowe), 3:06. Penalties — 3 for 6:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Third period — no scoring. Penalties — Colony 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 3. Homer, Pitzman (Menke), 7:50. Penalties — Colony 1 for 2:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 14-14-9-6—43; Colony 9-6-8-7—30.
Goalies — Homer, Warren (30 shots, 29 saves); Colony, Doss (43 shots, 41 saves).
Mariners 3, Moose 1
Palmer 1 0 0 —1
Homer 2 0 1 —3
First period — 1. Homer, Pitzman (Weston), 9:22; 2. Palmer, Avezac (unassisted), 14:34; 3. Homer, Blakely (Nevak), 14:59. Penalties — Palmer 1 for 5:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Second period — no scoring. Penalties — Palmer 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Homer, Lowe (Nevak), 3:02. Penalties — Homer 2 for 15:00; Palmer 1 for 10:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 9-9-14—32; Palmer 7-7-10—24.
Goalies — Homer, Warren (24 shots, 23 saves); Palmer, Winder (32 shots, 29 saves).