Kenai's Ben Boycott eyes a puck in the second period Friday against Colony.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
For the first time since 1996, there will not be a team from the Kenai Peninsula in the Class 4A state hockey tournament.
Since 1996, Soldotna has represented the peninsula at the state tournament six times while Kenai Central has made four state appearances. Both the Stars and the Kardinals saw their seasons end Friday night in the semifinals of the North Star Conference tournament at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Kenai, the No. 3 seed, fell to No. 2 Colony 4-2. Soldotna, the No. 4 seed, was defeated by top-seeded Wasilla 4-1. Both games were not decided until the final minutes.
By qualifying for the championship game, Colony earns its first state berth since 2002 while the Warriors will play at state for the third straight year.
In Saturday’s championship game, Wasilla’s Jeremiah Dargis scored a power-play goal with 5:40 remaining in triple overtime to give the Warriors to a 3-2 victory over the Knights. Wasilla wins its second straight conference championship.
Soldotna, which had won five of its last six games heading into Friday, nearly had all the ingredients it takes to mix together an upset against Wasilla.
The Warriors have a lot more depth than the Stars. Wasilla uses 11 forwards and five defensemen, while Soldotna uses six forwards and four defensemen. With the depth disadvantage, Soldotna could not afford to fall into a big hole early.
Anton Olson gave Soldotna a 1-0 lead when, on an assist from Eli Waldrip, he slipped a backhand past goalie Ronnie Walker with 2:25 left in the first period.
“I thought we started off slow for the first seven or eight minutes, but then we played really well,” Wasilla coach Eric Troisi said.
Troisi said his team’s strategy was to pound Soldotna goalie Micah Perletti with as many shots as possible. That paid off with just 12 seconds left in the first period when Dargis scored after a flurry of activity in front Perletti.
“That was a heartbreaker,” Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said. “We played a really good first period, but in the last three minutes they started throwing everything on net. They probably had seven or eight shots in that time.
“It would have made a difference if we could have gotten out of the first period with the lead.”
In the second and third period, Wasilla continued to pepper Perletti with shots. The goalie made 47 saves for the game, compared to 11 for Walker.
“The defense kept all the shots outside, so that made it a lot easier to handle,” Perletti said. “The whole team did a good job.”
Perletti made his job easier by staying square to every shot and very seldom giving up good rebound opportunities. Wasilla’s second-period goal, scored by Adam Friese, came when the puck took a weird bounce off of Perletti’s stick when he tried to clear the puck. A period of scrambling ensued in front of the net before Friese finally connected.
“P. Funk was the man,” Soldotna forward Brian Herring said. “The first few shots he let in came on lucky bounces. He kept us in the game.”
With the Stars tiring and down 2-1 entering the third period, the question became whether one of the multiple shots Perletti was facing would finally go in, or whether Soldotna could somehow mount a successful attack on Walker, who spent nearly the entire period leaning rakishly on his crossbar.
The answer came with 2:09 remaining, when Wasilla’s Tanner Dutcher tucked in a rebound for a two-goal advantage. Friese added a power-play goal 40 seconds later for good measure.
The Stars had just two penalties in the game. With Herring the only senior on the ice and a bunch of players tiring, Swanson said the season-low mark in penalties showed a lot about his team’s discipline.
“The kids gave everything they had,” Swanson said. “They have nothing to be ashamed of, that’s for sure.”
Said Herring: “We played our best. I’m not upset that this is the way we ended our season or that this is the way I ended my career.”
Colony 4, Kenai Central 2
Kenai coach Nate Kiel wanted to make sure his squad got off to a quick start in the game. The Kardinals did just that, outshooting the Knights 13-9 in the first period. The only problem was that Colony senior goalie Tyrel Henkel was more than up to the challenge.
“I felt good in the first period,” Henkel said. “I took the first couple of shots and I got into a zone.”
Meanwhile, some nice passing set up a goal by Colony’s Austin Manelick with 11:47 left in the first, and Jake Graupmann blasted a slap shot past Kenai goalie Ben Boycott with 5:20 left in the first for a two-goal lead.
Colony coach Dale Mattson said his squad’s quick start was very important. Last time Colony played Kenai at the Sports Center, the Kardinals took a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-3 victory. Mattson said Henkel deserved a lot of credit for the start.
“I can think of at least four saves he had that were huge, and that’s not to say the other ones were not good shots,” Mattson said. “He had key saves to keep us rolling.”
Also in the first period, Kenai lost defenseman Justin Gabriel to a shoulder injury. Gabriel would not return to the game. With defensemen Kegan Kiel and Kyle Coleman already playing with injury, the loss of Gabriel cut Kenai’s depth even more.
After a defensive second period in which both teams managed just six shots, action picked up in the third period. Colony went up 3-0 when Dominick Frank ripped in a shot directly off a faceoff with 11:52 left in the game.
The Knights got another advantage when Jed McGlasson, Kenai’s leading scorer, received a penalty for checking from behind with 9:20 left, then was eventually sent off the ice with a game misconduct.
Kenai took that low point and made it a high point when Brad Fusaro, who was playing with a broken jaw, poked a shot past Henkel by deflecting it off of Frank’s stick with 7:49 to play. The assist on the short-handed goal went to Owen Dukowitz.
Colony further stoked the comeback flames by taking two penalties and giving the Kards a 5-on-3 power play. Kegan Kiel took advantage by crossing the blue line and lacing a slap shot past Henkel with 3:50 to play.
“We’ve had heart the whole year,” Kenai senior Nelson Kempf said. “The third period has always been our strength.
“We were down three goals, but we figured it was the last game of the year, and the last game for a lot of us, so we’d just give our best.”
The Kards could never net the equalizer, though, and Colony put the game away when Blake Huppert scored an empty-net goal with 32 seconds left.
“This is our first time at state in four seasons,” said Mattson, who has six seniors on his team. “This is something our seniors have been working for since their freshman, sophomore and junior years. It’s a big deal.”
As for Kenai seniors Paul Drennen, Kempf, Coleman and Boycott, Kiel thanked them for helping take the program to new heights.
“They are having a tough time dealing with this, but that’s good because that means they were committed to something,” Kiel said of the seniors. “It’ll be tough to lose them, but we’ve got a solid group of eight seniors for next year.
“I’m already looking forward to it.”
KNIGHTS 4, KARDINALS 2
Kenai 0 0 2 2
Colony 2 0 2 4
First period 1. Colony, Manelick (Pauling, B. Huppert), 3:13; 2. Colony, Graupmann (Weeks, L. Huppert), 9:40. Penalties Kenai 1 for 2:00; Colony 1 for 2:00.
Second period none. Penalties Kenai 1 for 2:00; Colony 2 for 4:00.
Third period 3. Colony, Frank (Pauling), 3:08; 4. Kenai, Fusaro (Dukowitz), 7:11; 5. Kenai, Kiel (Boycott), 11:10; 6. Colony, B. Huppert (Manelick), 14:28. Penalties Kenai 3 for 14:00; Colony 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal Kenai 13-6-524; Colony 9-6-924.
Goalies Kenai, Boycott (24 shots, 20 saves); Colony, Henkel (24 shots, 22 saves).
WARRIORS 4, STARS 1
Soldotna 1 0 0 1
Wasilla 1 1 2 4
First period 1. Soldotna, Olson (Waldrip), 12:35; 2. Wasilla, Dargis (un.), 14:48. Penalties Wasilla 3 for 6:00.
Second period 3. Wasilla, Friese (Dargis, Elkins), 6:03. Penalties Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Wasilla 1 for 2:00.
Third period 4. Wasilla, Dutcher (Johnson, Kenworthy), 12:51; 5. Wasilla, Friese (Dargis, Zehnder), 13:31. Penalties Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal Soldotna 4-4-412; Wasilla 14-17-2051.
Goalies Soldotna, Perletti (51 shots, 47 saves); Wasilla, Walker (12 shots, 11 saves).
WARRIORS 3, KNIGHTS 2, 3 OT
Colony 1 1 0 0 0 0 2
Wasilla 0 2 0 0 0 1 3
First period 1. Colony, B. Huppert (Pauling, Lund), 8:28. Penalties Colony 1 for 2:00, Wasilla 2 for 4:00.
Second period 2. Wasilla, Barkley (un.) 1:55; 3. Wasilla, Thomas (Ingalls, Brent), 9:29; 4. Colony, Walden (B. Huppert), 12:15. Penalties Colony 1 for 2:00, Wasilla 3 for 6:00.
Third period none. Penalties Colony 2 for 4:00.
First overtime none. Penalties none.
Second overtime none. Penalties none.
Third overtime 5. Wasilla, Dargis (un.), 9:20. Penalties Colony 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal Colony 6-8-2-521; Wasilla 10-11-12-1649.
Goalies Colony, Henkel (49 shots, 46 saves); Wasilla, Walker (21 shots, 19 saves).
Northern Lights Conference All-Conference Teams
MVP, Player of the Year Ryan Pauling, Colony.
Coach of the Year Dale Mattson, Colony.
First team Tanner Dutcher, Wasilla; Brian Herring, Soldotna; Ryan Pauling, Colony, Paddy Iverson, Skyview; Owen Dukowitz, Kenai; Jed McGlasson, Kenai; Alex Gittlien, Wasilla; Sam Evanoff, Soldotna; Eli Waldrip, Soldotna; Alex Lund, Colony; Ronnie Walker, Wasilla.
Second team Hunter Richards, Palmer; Joel Kenworthy, Wasilla; Adam Friese, Wasilla; Adam Triewieler, Homer; Blake Huppert, Colony; Austin Manelick, Colony; Josh Cho, Skyview; Brad Fusaro, Kenai; Tyrel Henkel, Colony; Ben Boycott, Kenai.
Honorable mention Justin Adams, Homer; Tyson Alger, Palmer; Kevin Laurion, Soldotna; Ryan Mercier, Skyview; Ben Miller, Homer; Jim Isaacs, Palmer.
Good Sports Award Winners Sam Satre, Homer; Ansel Sandone, Wasilla; Whitney Ischi, Soldotna; Justin Gabriel, Kenai; Hunter Richards, Palmer; Jake Graupmann, Colony; Scott Ralston, Skyview.
Skills competition winners Fastest skater Ryan Pauling, Colony; Hardest shot Ryan Pauling, Colony; Shooting accuracy Alex Gittlien, Wasilla; Showdown shooter champion Tanner Dutcher, Wasilla; Showdown goalie champion Jim Isaacs, Palmer.
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