Opportunity kept knocking. Kenai Central senior forward Morgan Cunningham kept answering.
Cunningham notched the fourth varsity hat trick of his career on Friday in a 5-2 nonconference victory over Bartlett at the Soldotna Sports Center. The Kardinals improved to 8-8-1 with their fourth victory in a row. Soldotna defeated Bartlett 2-1 a night later at the sports center.
For the first half of the game, Cunningham was in one of those zones where great opportunity after great opportunity kept coming his way.
He started the scoring just 1:48 into the game, when Bartlett failed to clear the zone and Cunningham collected the puck at the blue line. He did not receive much resistance as he skated in and beat Bartlett goalie William Andariese.
Bartlett coach Jeff Barney said his squad did not hit the ice ready to play.
"We didn't move our feet and we didn't have a good game," he said. "We were slow."
With 9:26 left in the first, Bartlett went on the power play. Cunningham immediately took advantage by streaking up the ice and just missing a short-handed goal. With 8:38 left in the first, Jerry Whittle tied the game with a power-play goal.
Cunningham got the lead right back a little over three minutes later. He carried the puck into the zone and the Bartlett defense was slow to come over and challenge him. Cunningham loaded up a slap shot and ripped it past Andariese.
"It's just hard work paying off," Cunningham said. "I've spent countless hours in the driveway and in the garage practicing shooting.
"I also have to give credit to my teammates for setting me up with good passes."
Cunningham nearly recorded his hat trick in the first period. The Kardinals went on the power play with 1:48 left in the first and Cunningham had a chance on Andariese's doorstep with .5 seconds left, but the goalie scrambled to make the save.
So Cunningham merely waited until 8:08 left in the second to record his 10th goal of the year. Leading a 2-on-1, Cunningham yelled to his fellow offender, "Screen, screen, screen," as the two skated up the ice.
Cunningham's teammate ran the requested interference while Cunningham deftly flicked the puck over Andariese's shoulder for a 3-1 game.
"The puck was definitely bouncing his way tonight, and he took advantage," said Kenai coach Pete Iverson of Cunningham.
The Kards stretched the lead to 4-1 with 1:22 in the second when Zack Mese scored on assists from Cunningham and Pete Iverson. It was Iverson's third helper of the night.
The goal came while Whittle was serving a five-minute major for a slash at 2:40.
"That was huge," Iverson said. "It let us try out a bunch of different things on the power play."
Mason Rafter cut the lead to 4-2 with 8:02 left in the game, but Mese iced the game with an empty-netter with 20 seconds left.
The Kardinals outshot the Golden Bears 45-27. Iverson said his squad did a good job making sure most of Bartlett's shots were low-percentage shots, although the coach said his defenders started a little slow in the first period.
Kenai goalie Keegan Remsen played the first two periods and made 19 saves, while Justin Alvey played the last 15 minutes and made six saves.
Iverson said the four-game winning streak gives his squad a desired spurt of momentum as it heads into three crucial conference games. The Kards play Palmer on Thursday at 6 p.m., Wasilla on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Colony on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. All games are at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"The team is feeling great," Cunningham said. "I feel like we can beat anybody in our conference now."
Stars 2, Golden Bears 1
Soldotna defeated Bartlett 2-1 Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center in the Stars' first game in about a month.
Zack Waters had a goal and an assist for the Stars (9-4-2), who coach Aaron Swanson said outshot the Golden Bears 48-13. Matt Fellman also scored for SoHi.
Bartlett took a 1-0 lead on a goal in the second period, but the Stars answered with two of their own -- both in the second.
Swanson was happy with the win after his team had been away from the ice for the past month for winter break.
"We were hoping just to have high energy and improve on some of the things we've been working on," the coach said. "We were expecting a little bit of rust."
The Stars have a busy week, hosting Wasilla, Colony and Palmer on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the sports center.
Kardinals 5, Golden Bears 2
Bartlett 1 0 1 --2
Kenai 2 2 1 --5
First period -- 1. Kenai, Cunningham (Iverson), 1:48; 2. Bartlett, Whittle (King, Johnson), 6:22; 3. Kenai, Cunningham (Morse, Wagoner), 9:38. Penalties -- Bartlett 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period --4. Kenai, Cunningham (Iverson), 6:52; 5. Kenai, Mese (Cunningham, Iverson), 13:38. Penalties -- Bartlett 5 for 13:00; Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Third period -- 6. Bartlett, Rafter (King), 6:58; 7. Kenai, Mese (Johnston), 14:40. Penalties -- Bartlett 3 for 6:00; Kenai 5 for 26:00.
Shots on goal -- Bartlett 13-7-7--27; Kenai 13-16-16--45.
Goalies -- Bartlett, Andariese (27 shots, 22 saves); Kenai, Remsen (20 shots, 19 saves), Alvey (7 shots, 6 saves).
Stars 2, Golden Bears 1
Bartlett 0 1 0 --1
Soldotna 0 2 0 --2
First period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Bartlett 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 1. Bartlett, King (DeHare, Johnson), 1:25; 2. Soldotna, Waters (Kerkvliet, Dalton Pearson), 9:03; 3. Soldotna, Fellman (Waters, Hegge), 14:47. Penalties -- Bartlett 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Bartlett 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 5 for 10:00.
Shots on goal -- Bartlett 5-5-3--13; Soldotna 18-18-12--48.
Goalies -- Bartlett, Andariese (48 shots, 46 saves); Soldotna, Dawson Pearson (13 shots, 12 saves).
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