PALMER Sometimes it only takes a thing or two to be the deciding factor in the game.
On Saturday, it could have been a subtle mistake by Wasilla or the blazing speed of Kenai forward Jed McGlasson that proved to be the difference in the Kardinals’ 4-2 win over the Warriors in the North Star Conference Tournament title game at the Palmer Ice Arena.
Kenai scored on both its power-play opportunities and McGlasson posted the hat trick, as the Kardinals ended Wasilla’s two-year reign as conference champions.
“In a game like that, that’s close, it’s going to be what you do wrong as opposed to what you do right (that is the difference),” first-year Wasilla head coach Bill Sturdavant said. “We made a couple of mistakes, and Kenai capitalized on them. We didn’t make many. And in a game like that, it’s hard to look at that one mistake that may have cost you the game.”
Some mistakes Wasilla may have made on the defensive side of the ice, may have just been in attempt to deal with the speed of Kenai’s fast forwards most notably McGlasson.
“Jed brings a little extra dimension because of his speed,” said Kenai head coach Nate Kiel, who was named the North Star coach of the year following the game. “He certainly is one of the fastest players in the state. He might be the fastest in the state.”
McGlasson used a nifty shot to tie the game at 1, and some patient stick work to give the Kardinals a more comfortable 4-2 lead in the final minutes of the game. But McGlasson’s speed was most apparent on his second goal of the contest.
With less than six minutes remaining in regulation, McGlasson picked up the puck at the blueline and stormed through the Wasilla defense. He cut through Wasilla’s pair on defense, and put a quick shot past Warrior goaltender Jesse Hugli.
Sturdavant said allowing the swift McGlasson to take the puck from the blueline and score was one of the few mistakes Wasilla made during the game.
“When you’re playing three guys with that much speed, you’ve almost got to wait until those guys get tired to contain them,” said Sturdavant, who feels Kenai’s top line is one of the fastest his team will see in the state.
Freshman Matthew Friese gave Wasilla a 1-0- lead with a power-play goal late in the first period. Working with the advantage, Friese walked the puck to the right circle, faked the pass and fired a hard and high shot into the far side of the net.
Four seconds into the second period, McGlasson tied the game with a power-play score of his own. With Hugli screened, McGlasson fired a twisting shot from the point into the net.
Late in the second Owen Dukowitz, the region player of the year, gave Kenai the 2-1 lead, but Wasilla was able to tie the game up with only five seconds remaining in the period.
Wasilla junior Brian Turner scored to even the game at 2-2.
McGlasson scored the game-winner with 5:38 left and added his third goal of the night with 1:38 remaining.
After putting an initial shot on goal, McGlasson swept the rebound away from Hugli, and poked the puck around the Wasilla netminder.
The game certainly took on a physical tone, appropriate for the final game of a tournament in which the referees apparently swallowed their whistles. Only four penalties were called in a game that featured a countless number of hits.
Though only four penalties were called, special teams played a pivotal role.
Kenai was 2-for-2 with the extra man, while Wasilla was 1-for-2 with the advantage.
The play of Kenai’s power-play unit has been key in the Kardinals’ last two wins over Wasilla. In a 7-1 win in late January, Kenai scored five times on the power play.
“Special teams have been really big for us this year,” McGlasson said. “We’ve been working on it a lot.”
Kiel credited his senior class, as Kenai earned its first region title since 2004.
“It came down to a few of our senior leaders coming up with some big plays, and the rest of the team was a great supporting cast,” Kiel said. “And our goalie came up big without a doubt.”
McGlasson, Dukowitz and Brad Fusaro consistently put pressure on the Wasilla net, but Kiel said he felt the play of senior defensmen Steven Cronkhite and Justin Gabriel also stood out.
“They are awesome leaders, unsung heroes,” Kiel said.
Kenai and Wasilla each earned spots in the ASAA 4A State Hockey Championships, which starts Thursday at the Menard Memorial Arena in Wasilla.
The bracket for the event will be released today by ASAA.
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