The chance to capture the first state berth in school history will have to wait another year for the Homer hockey team.
Wasilla skated off with a 4-2 victory Friday night in a North Star Conference tournament semifinal to advance to Saturday’s championship game and secure the last state bid from the region. The loss ended Homer’s season on the spot.
The Warriors were able to notch a 4-3 win over Colony in the championship game.
Alex Engan powered the Warriors in Friday’s semis with a hat trick, putting Wasilla ahead early in the second period, then netting a crucial insurance goal midway through the third to help secure the win.
“He saved one of his best games for tonight,” said Wasilla head coach Trent Schachle. “He dives at the net, shoots the puck and makes things happen, and that line he’s on is a good one.”
Coming off one of the best seasons in Homer hockey history, the teary-eyed Mariners were left to watch a state appearance disappear in the final minutes. A win would have given the program its first ever state trip.
Instead, an emotional Homer team was left to ponder what if.
“Wasilla wanted it more,” stated North Star Coach of the Year Chance Rockett. “They’ve been here, done that. They had what it takes.”
Charlie Menke and Isaiah Nevak scored goals for Homer.
Wasilla’s defensive core stood tall against a Homer contingent that averaged five goals a game in the regular season. Wasilla goalie Aaron Campbell anchored the night with 18 saves on 20 shots.
In their first meeting in Homer, the Warriors gave up four goals in a loss, but then shut out the Mariners in a home victory later in the season. Schachle said Friday’s semi was another well-executed lockdown in giving up 20 shots on goal.
“I told them we’ve got to play our game, outwork them and keep the puck in front of us,” Schachle said.
Homer junior Hunter Warren, who earned the First-Team All-Conference goalie spot, stopped 28 of 32 shots.
Tied at one apiece after one period, Engan and Porter Schachle scored in the second to give Wasilla a 3-1 lead at the end of two frames.
To answer, Rockett subbed wingers Ethan Pitzman and Phin Weston on their offensive lines to help provide a spark, and it nearly worked.
Homer went on the power play a minute and a half into the third period, and it took just eight seconds for Nevak to knock in the puck for a goal, cutting Wasilla’s lead in half at 3-2.
Engan responded with just under 10 minutes left in the game to pad the lead once again.
Homer turned up the wick on offense in the final nine minutes in hopes of closing it up again, but several highlight-reel saves kept the puck out. A spectacular sequence of events nearly resulted in a Homer goal with about eight minutes left as Nevak launched a shot on goal and Tyler Gilliland worked the rebound from the slot, only to see the puck ring the post and then tease the goal line in agonizing fashion.
A Homer power play with 6:30 left came up empty, and a pair of Wasilla penalties left Homer on a 6-on-3 man advantage with 1:01 left and the goalie pulled.
“We had a couple pucks on net, and you could say it was the hockey gods or whatever you believe that kept it out,” Rockett said. “We were bearing down on them.”
While Homer and its 17-6-0 season went by the wayside, Rockett said the core group of seniors left an impact on the program that he had never seen before, a program led by forward Dimitri Kuzmin, Spencer Warren and Tim Blakely and defensemen Charlie Menke and Douglas Dean.
“We wouldn’t have had the season we did without this leadership,” Rockett said. “That’s how good this core is.”
Kuzmin was named to the First-Team All-Conference forward list and Menke was named to the First-Team defense.
However, unlike other powerhouse teams like Colony or Wasilla, the Mariners typically do not have quite the ability to easily reload with talent for another postseason run, which explained the emotional mood of the locker room postgame, but Rockett said the players that are returning next year could make it happen again.
“No regrets,” Rockett said. “We had the best year we could’ve had. You’re always going to be thinking what we could’ve done different, you’ll be second-guessing yourself, but failing is what makes you successful.”
Early on, Wasilla struck first with an opening-period goal from Engan off a rebound. Menke answered for Homer late in the period with a long snipe from the right side boards that rocketed by Campbell’s shoulder to tie it up.
Engan put the Warriors ahead early in the second with a long wrister from the left circle.
Homer pressured but didn’t break through on a power play opportunity late in the second period, and an interference call seconds after the penalty ended put the Warriors on the power play. Schachle capitalized on a rush to the goal to score, giving Wasilla a 3-1 lead after two frames.
Colony 12, Kenai 0
One night after pulling off a mild upset over Palmer, the Kardinals could not repeat the feat in a lopsided semifinal loss to the top-seeded Knights. Kenai’s season ended on the spot, while Colony advanced to Saturday’s championship game and punched its ticket to the state tournament for a fourth straight year.
Jake Hessinger and Cooper Smith both tallied hat tricks to lead the Knights, while Foster Riekena had a goal and three assists. Cole Doss and Roman Shepard combined for the shutout in goal. Doss started between the pipes and stopped six shots while Shepard stopped three in the third period.
Colony head coach Jamie Smith said after earning the No. 1 seed and first-day bye that comes with it, the Knights had no problems dispatching the Kardinals.
“We were ultrafocused,” Smith said. “We were pretty motivated to come out and punch our ticket to state.”
Kenai freshman Josh Tree made 35 saves on 47 shots for Kenai. Andrew Carver came on in the final minutes and stopped three shots.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal against Palmer, the Kards rallied from an early 3-0 hole to force overtime. Jordan Knudson netted the game-winning goal for Kenai just 23 seconds in to keep the season alive.
In Friday’s semi, Colony dominated the ice with a 50-9 shots advantage, resulting in four goals in each period.
“Colony’s a great team and they played a great game,” said Kenai head coach Jacob Newton. “Our kids worked their butts off and just tried to do the little things.”
The Knights built up a 3-0 lead in the first period, all on short-handed goals. Smith opened the scoring 4:52 in and the lead later rocketed to 4-0 thanks to three goals in a 1:07 span.
In the second, Kenai skater Matt Hagel went down with an injury after a hard check from a Colony defenseman, leading to a pair of five-minute majors that canceled out a power play for either team.
Newton praised the Kardinals progress through the year and said while the team is losing five seniors, there stands to be some talented skaters entering the program as freshmen from the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association ranks.
“I hope some of them will fill in the voids,” Newton said. “We just need to keep guys healthy and play some hard-nosed Kardinal hockey.”
North Star MVP — Porter Schachle, Wasilla.
North Star Coach of Year — Chance Rockett, Homer.
First-Team Forwards — Jake Hessinger, Colony; Galen Brantley III, Soldotna; Levi Mese, Kenai; Cooper Smith, Colony; Dimitry Kuzmin, Homer; Porter Schachle, Wasilla.
First-Team Defense — Matt Hagel, Kenai; Wyatt Moore, Wasilla; Charlie Menke, Homer; Kolten Ketchum, Colony.
First-Team Goalie — Hunter Warren, Homer.
Second-Team Forwards — Jakeb O’Brien, Kenai; Tyler Gilliland, Homer; Noah Keil, Palmer; Hayden Masterson, Wasilla; David Scully, Palmer; Tim Blakely, Homer.
Second-Team Defense — Lucas Gudz, Wasilla; Zack Monaco, Colony; Ethan Welch, Palmer; Douglas Dean, Homer.
Second-Team Goalie — Cole Doss, Colony.
Honorable Mention Forwards — Spencer Warren, Homer; Phin Weston, Homer; Isaiah Nevak, Homer; Foster Riekena, Colony; Tae’jean Evans, Colony; Mitchell Diltz, Colony; Alex Engan, Wasilla; Darian Wilson, Palmer; Wyatt Medcoff, Soldotna; Braxton Urban, Soldotna.
Honorable Mention Defense — Bret Ewing, Colony, Devin Carney, Wasilla; Luke Theisen, Palmer.
Honorable Mention Goalies — Aaron Campbell, Wasilla; Josh Tree, Kenai; Corbin Wirz, Soldotna; Cale Winder, Palmer.
Good Sport Team — Wyatt Moore, Wasilla; Dane Jellich, Colony; Wyatt Medcoff, Soldotna; Alex Nelius, Palmer; Jordan Knudson, Kenai; Charlie Menke, Homer.
Warriors 4, Mariners 2
Wasilla 1 2 1 —4
Homer 1 0 1 —2
1st period — 1. Wasilla, Engan (Masterson, Gudz), 6:16; 2. Homer, Menke (Weston), 11:54. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 3. Wasilla, Engan (unassisted), 3:50; 4. Wasilla, Schachle (unassisted), PP, 14:08. Penalties — Homer 2 for 4:00; Wasilla 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 5. Homer, Nevak (Kuzmin, Gilliland), PP, 1:38; 6. Wasilla, Engan (Masterson), 5:04. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00; Wasilla 5 for 13:00.
Shots on goal — Homer 6-7-7—20; Wasilla 15-8-9—32.
Goalies — Homer, Warren (32 shots, 28 saves); Wasilla, Campbell (20 shots, 18 saves).
Knights 12, Kardinals 0
Colony 4 4 4 —12
Kenai 0 0 0 —0
1st period — 1. Colony, Smith (unassisted), SH, 4:52; 2. Colony, Smith (Riekena, Monaco), SH, 9:41; 3. Colony, Ketchum (unassisted), SH, 10:27; 4. Colony, Hessinger (Evans), 10:48. Penalties — Colony 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 5. Colony, Evans (Smith, Riekena), PP, 9:56; 6. Colony, Holman (Monaco), 10:19; 7. Colony, Smith (Ketchum, Evans), 12:10; 8. Colony, Korynta (unassisted), 13:46. Penalties — Colony 2 for 7:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
3rd period — 9. Colony, Hessinger (Smith, Riekena), PP, 1:58; 10. Colony, Riekena (Evans, Smith), PP, 2:38; 11. Colony, Holman (Jellich, Diltz), PP, 4:47; 12. Colony, Hessinger (Ketchum), 10:25. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 5:00.
Shots on goal — Colony 21-14-15—50; Kenai 1-5-3—9.
Goalies — Colony, Doss (6 shots, 6 saves), Shepard (3 shots, 3 saves); Kenai, Tree (47 shots, 35 saves), Carver (3 shots, 3 saves).