The Soldotna and Skyview high school hockey teams put on a dandy of a show Thursday night, and the Panthers netted a goal in the final minute to take a 3-2 North Star Conference victory from the Stars at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Cody Carver scored the game winner for the Panthers, finishing off a pretty passing sequence with a good shot to beat Soldotna goaltender Jon Verhelst with just 59 seconds left to play. Gabe Fellman earned an assist on the play.
"We were finishing our chances when we got the chance," Carver said. "Our passing is starting to come together, we're starting to shoot more, and we're finishing our chances."
Soldotna netted the first goal of the night, taking advantage of the only power play of the first period. After Skyview goaltender Kris Marshall turned aside three excellent Soldotna power-play scoring chances, the Stars' Matt Vasilie was able to beat the Panthers' netminder with 24 seconds left in the period, and just eight seconds left in the penalty.
Vasilie collected the puck off a clearing pass from Verhelst, split the Skyview defense to gain the blue line and deked his way around Marshall.
The power play proved to be the only edge the Stars had through the first period as the shots on goal were even at eight heading into the first intermission. Both teams had several quality scoring chances, and play was end-to-end with some nice passing and solid hitting.
Skyview evened the game in the second period -- again taking advantage of a power-play opportunity. A nice pass on the breakout sprung Fellman free on the left wing, and the Skyview junior cut toward the Soldotna net and was able to get off a shot that just trickled through Verhelst at 12:27 of the period. Matt Bell was given the assist on the play.
Skyview outshot Soldotna 13-6 in the period, in large part because of its three power plays. The Panthers were able to apply pressure while staying out of the box themselves.
The Panthers were awarded another power play to open the third period, but Vasilie was able to foil the man advantage with his second goal of the night, a shorthanded tally 3:38 into the period. Vasilie beat the Skyview defense back after the Stars were able to clear their zone and tucked his shot past Marshall. Johnny Mills and Sam Evanoff assisted on the play.
"Our offense is starting to pick up," Vasilie said. "Points are starting to go up on the board, and it's making games closer and closer."
Soldotna's lead would be short-lived, though, as Carver potted his first goal of the night less than two minutes later. Carver set himself up on Verhelst's back door to bang home the pass across the crease from Fellman, tying the game at two.
Skyview continued to apply the pressure, looking for the lead, but Verhelst made several big stops for the Stars before Carver was able to beat him in the closing minute.
Verhelst was able to leave the goal for an extra skater as the final minute ticked away, and the Stars hit the Skyview crossbar with 22 seconds to play, but Soldotna couldn't get anything else past Marshall, who finished with 18 saves.
The win ties the Panthers (7-8-1 overall, 2-6-1 NSC) with Palmer for fourth place in the conference. The Stars (3-15-0, 2-7-0) fall to last place in the conference.
Both teams have one game remaining. Skyview faces conference-leading Kenai at 7 tonight, while the Stars will take a shot at the Kardinals Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
For Saturday's game, the Soldotna booster club will be showing its appreciation by inviting all sponsors who advertised in the team's program to attend the game with a guest free of charge.
PANTHERS 3, STARS 2
Soldotna 1 0 1 -- 2
Skyview 0 1 2 -- 3
First period -- 1. Soldotna, Vasilie (Verhelst), 14:36 pp. Penalties -- Skyview 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 2. Skyview, Fellman (Bell), 12:27 pp. Penalties -- Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Third period -- 3. Soldotna, Vasilie (Mills, Evanoff), 3:38 sh; 4. Skyview, Carver (Fellman), 5:26; 5. Skyview, Carver (Fellman), 14:01. Penalties -- Soldotna 2 for 12:00.
Shots -- Soldotna 7-6-7--20, Skyview 8-13-15--36.
Goalies -- Soldotna, Verhelst (36 shots, 33 saves); Skyview, Marshall (20 shots, 18 saves).
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