Keegen Remsen insisted he did nothing special. His performance said otherwise.
The goaltender saved 25 shots in as many tries and helped kill five power plays, leading the Kenai Central hockey team to a pivotal 3-0 win over Homer in North Star Conference action Thursday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"I didn't really do anything special," said Remsen, who has allowed one goal over the past seven periods. "I just came out and played my game today."
Morgan Cunningham, TJ Wagoner and Zack Zulkanycz tallied goals for Kenai Central and Remsen did the rest as the Kards earned a win that put them on the inside track for a third-place finish in the North Star Conference.
Kenai Central can finish no worse than fourth thanks to the victory and would clinch third with a tie or victory against Soldotna at 7:45 p.m. today.
The Kards are 10-10-1 overall and 5-4-0 in league play, good for 10 points, and own the tiebreaker over fourth-place SoHi (10-5-3, 2-3-3, seven points) because of a 1-0 victory over the Stars earlier this season.
"Every win is a big win," Kenai Central coach Pete Iverson said. "Hopefully this kind of gets the team prepared for Soldotna."
In a season in which one-goal games have been the norm in the conference, the Kards will now look to finish on a three-game winning streak and defeat their rival for the second time in as many tries.
The Stars, however, have plenty of incentive.
They would jump to third in the conference with a win over the Kards and a victory against Homer in the regular-season finale at 5 p.m. Saturday in Homer.
Although a strong performance at the conference tournament is Kenai Central's No. 1 goal, the players say finishing ahead of SoHi in the regular-season standings also is important.
"It would mean the world because they are our toughest competition on the peninsula," Remsen said. "Whenever we can win against them, it's a great day."
Palmer (18 points) is undefeated in conference play and has clinched first, while Wasilla (11 points) would clinch second with a win or tie over Colony in the final game of the regular season. Colony sits in fifth with five points. Homer, meanwhile, will finish last even if it beats SoHi on Saturday.
In the North Star Conference tournament, which begins next weekend, the top two regular-season finishers receive first-round byes. The third-place finisher draws the No. 6 team in the opening round, while the fourth- and fifth-place squads square off. Two teams advance to the state tournament.
Iverson and Homer coach Buck Laukitis agreed every team is capable of winning the tournament -- and the games figure to be close.
"If we can start scoring goals, I think we can beat anybody," Laukitis said. "We've been playing everyone close and 90 percent of our play has been good."
Homer, which has gone scoreless over the past four games, finished 0-of-5 on power plays Thursday against the Kards.
Iverson said Kenai Central's plan coming into the game was to be aggressive on the penalty kill by pressuring the puck-carrier. He gave the credit to Remsen.
"He's a rock," Iverson said. "He saves our bacon, plain and simple. He lets us get away with a lot of mistakes."
Laukitis, meanwhile, said his team's inability to score is a byproduct of confidence more than anything. He called their scoring lull a case of being "snakebitten."
"It's a mental thing at this point," he said. "We can't win games 0-0, and when we fall behind 1-0, it's kind of like, 'Oh, no.'"
After Cunningham put the Kards up 1-0, Wagoner doubled the lead 30 seconds into the second period when he converted an assist from Zack Mese.
An unassisted goal late in the third from Zulkanycz on a breakaway was more than the Kards needed as Remsen shut the Mariners down.
The junior goalie said the mind-set is simple moving forward.
"Don't lose our heads and don't get cocky," Remsen said. "Just stay positive towards each other."
Cunningham gave the Kards a 1-0 lead with 4:41 to play in the first period, beating Homer goaltender Alex Sanarov on a bang-bang play to finish assists from Russell Dukowitz and Zack Zulkanycz.
Kardinals 3, Mariners 0
Homer 0 0 0 --0
Kenai Central 1 1 1 --3
First period -- 1. Kenai Central, Cunningham (Dukowitz, Zulkanycz), 10:19. Penalties -- Homer 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 2. Kenai Central, Wagoner (Mese), :30. Penalties -- Kenai Central 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- 3. Kenai Central, Zulkanycz (unassisted), 12:52. Penalties -- Homer 1 for 2:00; Kenai Central 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goals -- Homer (4-11-10--25); Kenai Central (5-12-15--32).
Goalies -- Homer, Sanarov (32 shots, 29 saves); Kenai, Remsen (25 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays -- Homer 0 for 5; Kenai Central 0 for 2.
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