The Kenai Central, Soldotna and Skyview hockey teams will stage their own tournament within a tournament starting today at the North Star Conference Tournament at the Palmer Ice Rink.
The top two teams in the single-elimination tournament qualify for state the following weekend in Fairbanks.
The conference is made up of three teams from the Kenai Peninsula and three from the Matanuska-Susitna valleys. Due to the way the seeding worked out, all the peninsula teams are on one side of the bracket, while all the valley teams are on the other side.
That means a peninsula team and a valley team are guaranteed a slot at state.
The peninsula teams all played just one week ago, with Kenai beating Skyview 11-1, Kenai edging Soldotna 3-2 and Soldotna knocking off Skyview 4-1.
Kenai, which has a 9-0-1 record in conference, is the No. 1 seed at the tournament and gets a first-round bye. The Kardinals have won two straight conference tournaments and have been to state three of the last four years.
Soldotna and Skyview face off at 5 p.m. today for the right to face the Kardinals at 5 p.m. Friday.
The Stars are undefeated this season against the Panthers (2-8 in conference), but Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said that is no reason to rest easy.
"It's definitely a tough game to prepare for because Skyview has been improving so much," said Swanson, whose team is 4-6 in the conference and has the No. 4 seed. "They could come out and knock us off without any trouble."
Swanson said his team has been improving too, though, as evidenced by the close loss to the Kardinals last week. Kenai was blowing out Soldotna in games at the beginning of the season.
"Kenai's certainly a very good team," Swanson said. "We have to come out with our best effort to have any chance to beat them."
Swanson said a number of things have to happen if the Stars are to earn a state berth. Soldotna must get scoring from forwards like Matt Vasilie, Brian Herring and Kevin Laurion. Defensemen Jeff Kennedy, Sam Evanoff, Eli Waldrip and Jake Bishop also must do a good job in limiting scoring chances. Finally, if goaltenders Micah Perletti and Kyle Kay get hot, they could carry the Stars through the tournament.
On the other side of the bracket, Palmer, Wasilla and Colony will be fighting it out. Palmer, at 0-10, is the No. 6 seed, while Wasilla (7-2-1) is No. 2 and Colony (7-3) is No. 3.
Mariners look for state berth
At the Wasilla Sports Center, Homer will be playing in the Greatland Conference Tournament Thursday, Friday and Saturday and looking for a top-four finish that would get it to the small-schools state tournament.
The Mariners are the No. 2 seed and have a 10-3-1 record in the conference. Homer opens up tournament play today against Glennallen. The Mariners topped the Panthers 13-2 earlier in the season.
"They're a good team and we can't take them lightly," Homer coach John Butcher said of the Panthers. "We have to go out and play a good game."
Butcher said everybody must step up if Homer is going to have a chance to win the tournament. Like most coaches, he knows that if his goaltender, Ben Miller, gets hot, it makes his team hard to beat.
Houston is the defending conference champion and recently defeated Homer 6-0 and 6-1.
"It was nice to finish out the season playing them," Butcher said. "That got us into another mode. I think we're playing well and with confidence going into this."
Nikiski will not be sending its team to the tournament, according to coach Donald Torres.
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