Kenai's Brad Fusaro, left, tries to rebound Owen Dukowitz's shot as Palmer goalie James Isaacs successfully defends his net in the first period Thursday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai coach Nate Kiel has talked all season about his team’s resiliency.
The Kardinals couldn’t have picked a better time to prove their coach right.
With their unblemished North Star Conference record in jeopardy, Kenai overcame a late 2-1 deficit by netting three goals in a 1:45 span in edging Palmer, 4-2, on Thursday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
“We showed it tonight,” Kiel said overcoming adversity. “We have character on this team.
“We didn’t come out and play our best hockey in the first period, things weren’t going our way, either,” he added. “We knew after two that we had the ability and the speed and the talent to come back and win the game. So, it was just a matter of trying to do it.”
Trailing by one, Kenai entered the third period outshooting the Moose 25-9 and didn’t let up.
They uncorked 11 shots in the first half of the frame and finally knotted the game on power play when senior Jed McGlasson took a pass from Owen Dukowitz, who was behind the net, and one-timed it past Palmer goalie James Isaacs with 4:49 remaining in the contest.
The Kardinals (11-4-1, 6-0) struck again on another power play only 44 seconds later when McGlasson passed up a shot and instead fed junior Dean Howell, who sent it flying by Isaacs.
Dom Eubank then made it 4-2 when he corralled the puck just inside Palmer’s blue line and shot it by Isaacs, who was out of position and skating backwards after coming out too far on an earlier breakup.
“They were on a mission,” Kiel said of his team’s third-period charge. “We had a good talk about what we had to do. They cranked the tunes and that was all that we needed to do. And they came out and put it together.”
After allowing a total of 12 goals in the last two games, Kiel was pleased to see an improved defense Thursday night against the Moose, who Kenai pounded 7-1 in Palmer earlier this season.
“That’s really nice to get back to playing a little bit better,” he said. “It’s still not as good as it needs to be. But we definitely played better team defense (Thursday) than we have been playing.”
Despite recording only five shots in the opening frame, Palmer still owned a 1-0 advantage after Zack Richards’ power-play tally with under 40 seconds left in the period.
Michael Hanson sped past the blue line and sent his shot wide of the net before it bounced off the boards and back in front of the opposite side of the goal where Richards squeezed it between Lauren Baldwin and the post.
It was the second time in the last seven days the Kardinals have surrendered a late power-play goal in the first period. West High of Anchorage netted one on Jan. 12 and eventually defeated Kenai, 7-1.
This time, however, the Kardinals managed to control the damage.
“We definitely picked it up because we knew these are our league points and we need these points to stay in first,” said Kenai senior defenseman Stephen Cronkhite. “So, I think we picked it up knowing we had to win this game and the next, too.”
Kenai knotted the game on a power play of its own only 3:54 into the second when senior Owen Dukowitz charged in from the boards and sent a backhander off the body of Isaacs. The puck then bounced over the Palmer goalie and senior Thomas Liddelow was there to tap it.
But Richards made it 2-1 when he netted his second of the game with 5:19 to go in the middle period.
While Isaacs faced 40 shots, Kenai’s superior defense limited the Moose to only 19, 17 of which were denied by Baldwin.
“I think we’ll start picking it up. That Christmas break hurt us because we didn’t get together at all through that and a lot of us didn’t skate during Christmas break,” Cronkhite said. “I think we’re starting to pick it back up and get back together as a unit.”
Tonight is the real test, however, as the Kardinals square off the Wasilla at 8:15 p.m.
“(Tonight) is the game that is going to, obviously, set one team up, I think, for a first-place run here for regions,” Kiel said.
Wasilla 3, Soldotna 0
While Soldotna has made tremendous strides since the beginning of the season, Wasilla is still just too much for the Stars to handle.
The Warriors scored in each of the first two periods and added a shorthanded tally in the third in blanking SoHi Thursday night at the Sports Center.
The game could have turned out differently, though, had a couple of calls gone Soldotna’s way.
After Wasilla’s Adam Friese opened the scoring 7:04 into the contest, the Stars nearly knotted the game when Ben Christianson put a rebound behind Warriors’ goalie Jesse Hugli before the defense cleared it out.
Christianson then thought he scored again when he intercepted the puck at mid-ice, skated in and sent a shot flying past Hugli. Christianson celebrated and the horn sounded but the ref called off the goal in sending a Warrior to the penalty box.
The first period went back-and-forth and ended with both teams knotted at eight shots apiece but Wasilla leading, 1-0.
Matthew Friese got into the scoring act with 7:02 left in the second when he put a rebound past SoHi goaltender Micah Perletti and the Warriors limited the Stars to only one shot in the middle frame in owning a 2-0 lead entering the third.
The final tally came 6:19 into the final frame when Matthew Friese skated in on a breakaway but knocked the puck too far ahead of him. In one last desperate moment as he sailed past the goal, he weakly backhanded the puck off Perletti’s backside and into the net for the shorthanded goal.
KARDINALS 4, MOOSE 2
Palmer 1 1 0 2
Kenai 0 1 3 4
First period 1. Palmer, Richards (Hanson, Danielowski), 14:22 (pp). Penalties Palmer 1 for 2:00; Kenai 3 for 14:00.
Second period 2. Kenai, Liddelow (Dukowitz, Fusaro), 3:54 (pp); 3. Palmer, Richards (Hanson), 9:41. Penalties Palmer 3 for 6:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period 4. Kenai, McGlasson (Dukowitz, Howell), 10:01 (pp); 5. Kenai, Howell (McGlasson, Fusaro), 10:45 (pp); 6. Kenai, Eubank (McGlasson, Fusaro), 11:46. Penalties Palmer 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal Palmer 5-4-1019; Kenai 11-14-1540.
Goalies Palmer, Isaacs (40 shots-36 saves) Kenai, Baldwin (19 shots-17 saves).
WARRIORS 3, STARS 0
Wasilla 1 1 1 3
Soldotna 0 0 0 0
First period 1. Wasilla, A. Friese, 7:04. Penalties Wasilla 4 for 8:00; Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Second period 2. Wasilla, M. Friese (A. Friese, Brent), 7:58. Penalties Wasilla 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Third period 3. Wasilla, M. Friese (Brent), 6:19 (sh). Penalties Wasilla 6 for 12:00, Soldotna 5 for 10:00.
Shots on goal Wasilla 8-10-725; Soldotna 8-1-211.
Goalies Wasilla, Hugli (11 shots-11 saves); Soldotna, Perletti (25 shots-28 saves).
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