Soldotna put on a special teams tutorial in its 3-0 win over Colony in the opening game of the North Star Conference tournament at the Soldotna Sports Center on Thursday.
The Stars scored all three goals on the power play -- out of four chances -- while shutting the Knights down on three man advantages.
"Special teams makes the difference in games like these," Stars head coach Aaron Swanson said. "The power play was working real well for us. We did a nice job of penalty killing as well."
"Basically, it came down to penalties," said Colony assistant coach Dale Mattson. "We took penalties when we couldn't afford to. That was a deal breaker."
The Stars square off against top-seeded Wasilla today at 5 p.m. at the Sports Center.
SoHi got off to a fast start, with Zack Waters netting a power-play goal 34 seconds after the drop of the puck. Sean Endsley threw a shot on net from the point, and Waters tipped it past Colony net minder Forrest Savel.
"We converted right off the bat. It set the tone for the game," Swanson said.
"That was what got everybody together," Endsley said of the quick goal.
Mattson said the early strike put his team on its heels.
SoHi goalie William Granger denied all 27 shots the Knights threw at him. Savel stopped 29 of the Stars' 32 shots.
"Our goaltender played outstanding," Swanson said. "He stood on his head tonight."
Though Granger was excited to get the win, and the shutout, Wasilla was already on his mind soon after the game.
"You win this game, but what's it going to matter if you don't win the next one?" Granger said. "You gotta win the whole thing."
After a scoreless second period, SoHi added early and late power-play goals in the third. The first came less than three minutes into the period. Endsley, who factored in on each goal, had the puck behind Colony's net. As he moved to his right, he threw a pass to Matt Fellman in front. Fellman put the puck behind Savel.
Josh Kerkvliet sealed the victory with 1:16 left in regulation. Jarrett Urban let a shot go from the point. Savel made the save but Kerkvliet buried the rebound past the Colony goalie.
Swanson said his team did a nice job of blocking shooting lanes, which factored into the win.
"It's really those little things that make a big difference in the game," he said.
Besides clicking on the power play, the Stars were able to get traffic in front of Savel, Granger said.
"The team crashed the net pretty good," he said.
Faceoffs, too, were a positive. SoHi featured some new offensive zone faceoff plays that worked well, Endsley said.
Endsley celebrated his 17th birthday on Thursday. About tallying three points and advancing to the next round of the NSC tourney, he said, "It was a great birthday present."
The NSC awards were released Thursday night. Those include:
The all-region good sports award: Wasilla, Adam Spencer; Palmer, Thomas Morino; Kenai, Brady Perkins; Soldotna, Jenna Redford; Colony, Alex Conard; Homer, Luke Eckert.
The all-region second team/honorable mention: Wasilla, Chris Yaskus; Palmer, Steve Acher; Kenai, Brady Perkins, Justin Herrmann, Morgan Cunningham; Soldotna, Dawson Pearson, Nick Pokryfki; Colony, Lance Nezaticky, Luke Moma, Braden Carter; Homer, Carson Duggar, Russ Merritt, Robert Lewis.
The all-region team: Wasilla, Chancie Hanson, Michael Johnston, Jade Johnston, Trent Wohlers; Palmer, Will Rauchenstein, Ivan Good, Jonas Naegele, Piers LaFrance; Kenai, Zack Zulkanycz; Soldotna, Sean Endsley, Jenna Redford.
The most valuable player went to Wasilla's Trent Wohlers. Homer head coach Buck Laukitis was named coach of the year.
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