The Kenai Central High School hockey team has been able to score a goal a game against Soldotna this season.
Friday night, the Kardinals made that one goal count.
Kardinals goaltender Nick Wirz made 25 saves to record his second consecutive shutout and backstopped Kenai to a 1-0 win over Soldotna at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"Nick played out of his mind again," said Soldotna goaltender Kelly Gee. "It was another goalie duel, but this time he came out on top."
In fact, both netminders were right on top of their games. While Wirz was smothering every puck thrown at him, Gee was doing just the same thing at his end of the building.
Kenai's Boone Hall finally broke the ice, scoring on a slap shot from just inside the Soldotna blue line that deflected of Stars defenseman Joey Newby's skate before skipping past Gee 6:43 into the third period.
"That shot just deflected high off Newby's skate. There wasn't much I could do about it. It's a fluke bounce. It happens," Gee said.
Hall had collected the puck near his own blue line and was able to pick up some momentum through center ice before letting fly with his shot.
"I kinda had a feeling when Boone picked up the puck that he was going to score," said Kenai defenseman Brian Gabriel Jr. "He had a lot of speed when he picked up the puck. It was kind of a gut feeling."
The Stars continued to put the pressure on Wirz over the final eight minutes, but the Kenai senior was up to the challenge.
"That was the most fun I've ever had," Wirz said. "I'm a senior and this was my last regular-season game. I had to go out in style."
The Stars had beaten Kenai 5-1 in an early December meeting, but Kenai played a much tighter game in the teams' second meeting, a 3-1 Soldotna win in which Wirz frustrated the Stars with 37 saves.
"It's always a lot of fun playing in a close game," Gee said. "Everybody's watching both of us, seeing who's going to crack first. Kenai's a fun team to play against."
Both teams kept the puck moving, with end-to-end action and solid, clean checking. In fact, referee Jimmy Love didn't blow his whistle more than five times in the entire first period, and both teams combined for a mere six penalties.
"(Love) let us play, and that contributed to the flow of the game," Gabriel Jr. said. "It's really sweet when you come around the net and you see guys changing on the fly and a lot of open ice."
"(A close game) just makes you go harder," said Kenai defenseman Jack Darsey. "The closer it is, the harder you go."
The Kardinals finish their regular season schedule with a 3-6-1 mark in the North Star Conference and an 8-13-1 overall record. More importantly, the Kardinals are playing their best hockey going into next weekend's Region III tournament at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"I've felt like the last couple of weekends, we're getting better and better every game," Wirz said. "It's good to go into regions like that. The team's really gelled in the last couple of weeks."
Soldotna finished its regular season with Saturday's late game against Skyview, and while the Stars have had to juggle their roster a bit since the Christmas break, they have been playing good hockey down the stretch.
"We have some good momentum heading into regions," Gee said. "There's a lot of integrity on this team -- it's a good, hard-working team.
"We didn't play bad at all. We played a good game, we just didn't score."
KARDINALS 1, STARS 0
Kenai 0 0 1 --1
Soldotna 0 0 0 --0
First period -- no scoring. Penalties -- none.
Second period -- no scoring. Penalties -- Kenai 2 for 4:00, Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- 1. Kenai, Hall (unassisted), 6:43. Penalties -- Kenai 1 for 2:00, Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 0-5-9--14, Soldotna 8-9-8--25.
Goalies -- Kenai, Wirz (25 shots, 25 saves); Soldotna, Gee (14 shots, 13 saves).
Power play opportunities -- Kenai 0 for 2, Soldotna 0 for 3.
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