On the final night of the season the Soldotna Stars proved to a raucous 200-strong crowd they are ready for next weekend's Region III tournament, powering past cross-town rival Skyview 4-3.
Soldotna survived a late push by the Panthers after controlling the first 40 minutes of the game.
The Panthers came within a hair's breadth of forcing overtime, getting tallies from Brennan Coyle and Jesse Waltemyer at 6:23 and 12:50 of the third, respectively.
The Stars ran away with a 2-0 first period lead. The Panthers ran repeatedly into a big, blue-sweatered defensive wall.
Soldotna had little trouble getting to Panther netminder Mike Bell, especially on the power play. Each of the Stars' first 3 goals happened with the man advantage.
Peter Kim opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game, converting Eric Newby's pass from the corner behind the penalty killers.
Soldotna coach John Carlin said the Panthers have been paying special attention to special teams in practice.
"They're finally relaxing on their power play," he said. "They're not rushing it."
With under 2 minutes to go in the first, John Gleason caught a stray Sam Tikka shot and fed it back to Tikka, who padded the Stars' lead.
Despite winning an overwhelming majority of faceoffs in the first, the Skyview attackers were unable to pressure goalie Kelly Gee, finishing the opening 15 minutes without a single shot on goal.
When the Panthers were finally able to break through SoHi's stifling defense, it was with power. At 5:35 into the second period, Mike Woodward was camped out in the slot, waiting, when a Star's defensive pass trickled through the crease. With a quick flick of his wrist Woodward got a goal on Skyview's first shot.
Gleason restored the two goal lead four and a half minutes later on a smooth power play conversion. Todd Hanson and Joey Newby assisted on the marker.
Soldotna freshman Dereck Martin gave the Stars all the breathing room they would need with a picture-perfect unassisted breakaway goal with 11:15 left in the game.
"That's about as pretty as they get," said Carlin.
Skyview keep its cool, racking up another pair of goals before pulling Bell to turn a 5-4 power play into a 6-4 tying opportunity.
Two penalty calls on the Panthers with 32 seconds remaining effectively ended their bid for overtime.
Carlin said SoHi's defense has been weakening in the final stages of games all season long, primarily due to the youth of it's defensemen.
"We're just getting a little tired," he said. "We're not real deep back there."
Skyview coach Indy Walton said he was impressed by his team's unwillingness to admit defeat.
"We were down three points; they didn't give up," he said. "When we pulled the goalie I really thought we were going to tie it up."
Both coaches remarked on the quality of hockey on the peninsula this year, saying any of the three Region III teams have a chance at the title next weekend.
Carlin said all the players are getting tired and banged up after all the games recently, but the teams who find success will overcome injuries an exhaustion.
"There's no time left for injuries," he said. "There's no time left for illness. There's no time left for whining.
"You just gotta suck it up and play."
Stars 4, Panthers 3
Soldotna 2 1 1 -- 4
Skyview 0 1 2 -- 3
First period --1. Soldotna, Kim (E. Newby), 4:48 PPG; 2. Soldotna, Tikka (J. Gleason), 13:03 PPG. Penalties -- Soldotna 2 for 4:00, Skyview 3 for 6:00.
Second Period -- 3. Skyview, Woodward (unassisted), 5:35; 4. Soldotna, J. Gleason (Hanson, J. Newby), 10:18 PPG. Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00, Skyview 3 for 6:00.
Third Period -- 5. Soldotna, Martin (unassisted), 3:45; 6. Skyview, Coyle (Polzin), 6:23; 7. Skyview, Maxwell (Waltemeyer) 12:50. Penalties -- Soldotna 2 for 4:00, Skyview 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal -- Soldotna 8-20-5--33, Skyview 0-6-11--17.
Goalies -- Soldotna, Gee (33 shots-30 saves); Skyview, Bell (17 shots-13 saves).
Power play opportunities -- Soldotna 3 for 6, Skyview 0 for 2.
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