When Soldotna's hockey team buried its first goal past Kenai Central net minder Kyle Dougherty early in the third period, cutting the Kardinals' lead to one, he didn't fall apart. Rather, the goal put him at ease.
"I always get relieved after the first goal," Dougherty said. "I was bummed, but I was relaxed."
Dougherty stayed perfect in net the remainder of the game, withstanding back-to-back SoHi power plays, and Kenai held on for a 2-1 win Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center. Kenai is 2-1 against SoHi this year. Both wins came in conference play. The Stars defeated the Kards in their first meeting of the season at the Peninsula Ice Challenge tournament in early November.
With an 8-2 win over Homer Saturday, the Kards earned the third seed in the North Star Conference. They will have a rematch against the sixth-seeded Mariners Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center in the first round of the NSC tournament. Fourth-seeded SoHi will take on fifth-seeded Colony. Top-seeded Wasilla and second-seeded Palmer earned first-round byes.
"This was a huge win for us," said Kards forward Morgan Cunningham after Friday's game. "It really boosted our confidence."
"This was Kyle's game," Kenai head coach Pete Iverson said. "He played his best high school game ever."
Dougherty turned away 24 of the 25 shots he faced. SoHi goaltender Dawson Pearson stopped 18 of the 20 pucks Kenai threw at him.
Both goaltenders played well, said Stars head coach Aaron Swanson. All three goals in the game were great plays and not the result of a goalie letdown, he said.
"If you take away a couple of breaks for both teams, we could still be playing," Swanson said.
Midway through the third, Kenai was given a bench penalty for too many men on the ice. Nine seconds after the Kards were back at full strength, Jake Iverson was called for interference.
Kenai's bench wasn't phased.
"I was proud our team. They didn't let those penalties deflate their enthusiasm," coach Iverson said.
Cunningham, one of Kenai's top penalty killers, described the situation in one word -- chaos.
"We just managed to survive," he said. "We did what we had to do to win. We played solid."
"We just played like a team," Dougherty added.
Strong penalty killing kept SoHi scoreless through the four minutes of power-play time. Zack Mese cleared the puck the length of the ice twice in the first penalty and blocked a cross-ice pass attempt, deflecting the puck out of Kenai's zone during the second Stars man advantage.
"Mese is a hard worker," coach Iverson said. "He's a little guy, but he's real fast and explosive and uses it to his advantage."
Prior to the second power play, Swanson called timeout to give his players a rest. On the ensuing man advantage, Kenai's strong defense continued.
Defenseman Brady Perkins lost his stick, but Kenai cleared the zone and Zack Zulkanycz applied pressure to eat more time off of the penalty. The Stars iced the puck with one second left on their power play.
"We just couldn't quite find the system to work," Swanson said. "They did a nice job killing it."
Mese starting the scoring for Kenai Central in the first period. He and Cunningham came into SoHi's zone two-on-two. Cunningham slid a pass to Mese. He moved to his right and roofed the puck past Pearson less than five minutes into the game.
The Kards struck again 1:22 later. With the puck on the left boards just inside the blue line, Justin Herrmann threw the biscuit toward the net. Ryan Fusaro redirected it across the goal line.
"Kenai came out and took it to us early," Swanson said.
He said his team settled into a rhythm in the second period and starting playing its game. The Stars peppered Dougherty with 15 second-period shots. He stopped every one of them.
"We couldn't find a way to score," Swanson said. "They did a nice job of shutting us down."
"Kyle kept us alive," coach Iverson added.
Just after an abridged Stars power play that carried over from when the second period ended, Perkins had the puck in front of his net. Out of his line of sight, SoHi's Matt Silver came from behind and stripped the puck. He pulled to his right and netted a shot past Dougherty less than two minutes into the third.
Late in the final period, with an extra attacker on the ice for SoHi, Zulkanycz took a shot at the empty net. He missed and Kenai was whistled for icing with 1:04 to play. Off of the faceoff, the Stars got the puck to Matt Fellman. He ripped a slap shot on net but Dougherty made a blocker save.
Zulkanycz got a second chance to put the game out of reach, but missed just wide of the goal on a shot from inside of SoHi's zone. Moments later, Herrmann threw the puck at the gaping net from behind the red line. He missed wide and SoHi had an offensive zone faceoff with 11.4 seconds left on the clock.
The Kards called timeout to rest and discuss players' assignments, coach Iverson said.
Herrmann won the draw to the near corner. The Stars managed to get the puck to Zack Waters, who was waiting in the high slot. He let a shot go but it deflected off of traffic and never made it to the goal and time expired.
"It was a good game all the way to the end," Cunningham said. "Everyone worked hard.
"We talk a lot about how we're going to improve on the ice," Cunningham added. "We just boost each other's confidence."
This is Kenai's second one-goal victory over the Stars this season. The Kards notched a 3-2 overtime win on Dec. 18., and coach Iverson wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's a tough, fast game," he said. "This is the way a crosstown rivalry is supposed to be."
Kardinals 2, Stars 1
Kenai 2 0 0 -- 2
Soldotna 0 0 1 -- 1
First period -- 1. Kenai, Mese (Cunningham, Herrmann), 4:31; 2. Kenai, Fusaro (Herrmann, LeMay), 5:53. Penalties -- None.
Second period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Kenai 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period --3. Soldotna, Silver (Anderson), 1:57. Penalties --Kenai 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 8-6-6 -- 20; Soldotna 4-15-6 -- 25.
Goalies -- Kenai, Dougherty (25 shots, 24 saves); Soldotna, Pearson (20 shots, 18 saves).
Kardinals 8, Mariners 2
Kenai 2 3 3 -- 8
Homer 1 1 0 -- 2
First period -- 1. Kenai, Zulkanycz (Mese, Cunningham), 8:40; 2. Kenai, Mese (Zulkanycz), 10:47; 3. Homer, Duggar (Stage), 13:20. Penalties -- Homer 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 4. Kenai, Cunningham (Zulkanycz, Perkins), 2:09; 5. Kenai, Zulkanycz (Mese, G. Iverson), 6:10; 6. Kenai, Herrmann (LeMay, Perkins), 7:38; 7. Homer, Duggar (McCarron, Simmons), 13:31. Penalties -- Kenai 2 for 4:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 8. Kenai, Herrmann (Cheek, J. Iverson), 3:20; 9. Kenai, J. Iverson (Cunningham, Fusaro), 7:28; 10. Kenai, LeMay (Herrmann), 11:21. Penalties -- Homer 6 for 20:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 14-13-16 -- 43; Homer 9-8-3 -- 20.
Goalies -- Kenai, Remsen (20 shots, 18 saves); Homer, Eckert (43 shots, 35 saves).
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