The Skyview Panthers opened the Region III/4A North Star Conference hockey tournament with an upset, defeating the Colony Knights 4-2 Thursday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"We were playing on faith and hope," said Skyview's Nelson Kempf.
Whatever the inspiration, the Panthers were able to score a pair of goals in the third period to break 2-2 deadlock, and Skyview goaltender Kris Marshall came up with several big saves to preserve the victory.
The win advances Skyview to tonight's 5:15 p.m. semifinal, where the Panthers will face the Wasilla Warriors. The winner of that game will advance to Saturday's championship game in addition to earning a berth at the state tournament.
"It was extremely fun -- very intense," said Skyview defenseman Ginny Berg. "Kris played an excellent game. He saved our butts on some of those shots."
Cody Carver scored what proved to be the game winner 3:53 into the third period. Carver collected a pass at midice, then gained the blue line and cut in toward the slot. His wrist shot from the slot beat Colony goalie Matt Dischner top shelf to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Gabe Fellman assisted on the play.
The Panthers then had to kill off a two-man Colony advantage, but Skyview's forecheck, led by Carver, gave the Knights fits throughout the period.
The Knights hit a post with about four minutes left to play, but that would be the closest they would come to tying the game.
Kempf iced the win with 2:37 to play, intercepting a pass at the Colony blue line as the Knights went for a line change. Kempf was steered wide of the net, but got off a awkward shot that slipped past Dischner.
Berg said Kempf, who was playing in his first game since returning from an injury, provided a spark for the team.
"We didn't have a whole lot of players, and it was getting our spirits down," Berg said. "Nelson Kempf came back from an injury, and it made a difference. It gave us some confidence."
The Panthers struck first, taking advantage of a power play just after killing off a penalty. Kempf was able to gather the puck after a great effort by the Panthers to keep it in the Colony zone and sent a shot toward the Colony goal.
Dischner made the stop on Kempf's shot, but Carver was perched on the doorstep for the rebound and tucked the puck home 4:45 into the game.
The pace of the game picked up following Skyview's goal, and the Knights were quick to respond. After the Knights missed a breakaway 7:10 into the period, Colony's Ryan Pauling made good on a shot from the slot. Pauling won the puck along the side boards, cut toward the middle and wristed a shot that beat Marshall just under the crossbar 8:08 into the period.
Toward the end of the period, the Panthers found themselves forced to kill back-to-back penalties -- which they successfully did -- and also had a golden opportunity regain their lead. Kempf led the breakout up the left wing and fired a shot on goal. Dischner barely made the stop, but the puck was left unattended in the crease, just inches from the goal line.
However, Dischner was able to flop backward and get a glove over it just as the buzzer sounded.
Colony's power play carried over into the second period, though, and Dean Shultz put the Knights ahead 32 seconds into the second frame, assisted by Pauling and Chris Arentz.
Luck stayed on the Knights' side for another eight minutes, though, as Dischner again wasn't able to cover up a puck in his crease -- but prevented Skyview from scoring -- four minutes into the period, and the Panthers rattled a shot off the post less than a minute after that.
Skyview's luck changed with 5:54 to go until the second intermission, though, when a Panthers shot bounced around in front of the Colony goal before being deflected in by one of the Knights' defensemen. Matt Bell was credited with the goal.
After that, it was Colony hitting the post, and Marshall made a pair of superb saves in the final four minutes of the period to keep the score level.
Kempf and Bell said they would take a few moments to relax before they started thinking about Wasilla.
"That's going to be a tough game, that's for sure," Bell said.
"I'm going to go home, have a nice pasta dinner and get some sleep," said Kempf.
STARS 8, MOOSE 2
Soldotna broke out for eight goals, setting up a grudge match in tonight's 7:45 p.m. semifinal against the Kenai Central Kardinals.
"Week after week, we've been trying to get better. We've been building all year long toward the end of the season," said Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson. "The kids were clicking tonight."
Johnny Mills put the Stars on the scoreboard with the first of his three goals just 2:23 into the game, springing free for a short-handed breakaway goal on a nice one-touch pass from Matt Vasilie.
Palmer tied the game midway through the period on a tally by Jaxon Logan, assisted by Joe Horcsik, but the Stars continued to fire shots on goal, outshooting the Moose 14-7 in the period.
Soldotna regained its lead with 3:20 to go until the first intermission when Tony Azzara jumped on a loose puck in front of the Palmer net. Palmer goalie Kyle Berti was still trying to recover from an earlier save, and Azzara tucked it under Berti's pads.
Azzara made it a two-goal lead 5:35 into the second period, converting a pass flipped in front of the Palmer goal by Brennan Best.
The Stars continued to create scoring chances, and Willie Boyles was able to capitalize with 3:45 left in the second period as the Stars won a faceoff in the Moose zone and went straight for goal. Jake Bishop earned an assist on the play.
Mills rounded out the second-period scoring, taking a blast from the point on a feed from Vasilie that went between the legs of teammate Dan Ghormley, who was crashing the goal with 1:21 to play in the period.
The Stars got a chance crank up their power play in the third period, scoring three goals with a man advantage in the frame.
Brian Herring scored just 1:43 into the period, taking a blast on goal from the left point. Vasilie and J.J. Sullivan assisted on the play.
Mills completed his hat trick at 2:42, firing a laser from the left circle past Berti. Herring and Ghormley assisted on the play.
Kevin Laurion added one more goal for the Stars, scoring on a shot from the left circle with 4:34 left in the game.
Jon Verhelst finished with 17 saves for the Stars.
PANTHERS 4, KNIGHTS 2
Skyview 1 1 2 -- 4
Colony 1 1 0 -- 2
First period -- 1. Skyview, Carver (Kempf), 4:45 pp; 2. Colony, Pauling (unassisted), 8:08. Penalties -- Skyview 5 for 12:00, Colony 1 for 4:00.
Second period -- 3. Colony, Shultz (Pauling, Arentz), 0:32 pp; 4. Skyview, Bell (unassisted), 9:06. Penalties -- Skyview 2 for 4:00, Colony 5 for 18:00.
Third period -- 4. Skyview, Carver (Fellman), 3:53; 5. Skyview, Kempf (unassisted), 12:23. Penalties -- Skyview 4 for 8:00, Colony 2 for 4:00.
Shots -- Skyview 9-6-12--27, Colony 11-11-5--27.
Saves -- Skyview, Marshall (27 shots, 25 saves); Colony, Dischner (27 shots, 23 saves).
STARS 8, MOOSE 2
Palmer 1 0 1 -- 2
Soldotna 2 3 3 -- 8
First period -- 1. Mills (Vasilie), 2:23 sh; 2. Palmer, Logan (Horcsik), 7:42; 3. Soldotna, Azzara (unassisted), 11:40. Penalties -- Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 4. Soldotna, Azzara (Best), 5:35; 4. Soldotna, Boyles (Bishop), 11:15; 6. Soldotna, Mills (Vasilie), 13:39 pp. Penalties -- Palmer 1 for 2:00, Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 7. Soldotna, Herring (Vasilie, Sullivan), 1:43 pp; 8. Soldotna, Mills (Herring, Ghormley), 4:25 pp; 9. Soldotna, Laurion (Herring), 10:26 pp; 10. Palmer, Senta (Blaylock), 13:15 pp.
Shots -- Palmer 7-4-8--19, Soldotna 14-18-11--43.
Goalies -- Palmer, Berti (43 shots, 35 saves); Soldotna, Verhelst (19 shots, 17 saves).
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