The Dimond hockey team was too deep and the Wasilla Sports Complex ice was too small for Soldotna on Thursday in the opening round of the Class 4A state hockey championships.
The Stars dropped a 7-2 decision to the Lynx, who are the Cook Inlet Conference champions and have only lost two games all season.
The loss dropped Soldotna into a game in the fourth-place bracket at 8 a.m. today against Lathrop, which lost 3-1 to Service on Thursday. Dimond goes on to play the Cougars in a 5:45 p.m. semifinal.
The loss also means that a team from the Kenai Peninsula has still never won a first-round game at state.
The Stars (14-9) dropped a 3-2 decision to Dimond in late January at the Soldotna Sports Center. The sheet of ice at the Wasilla Sports Complex is smaller than the sheet at the Sports Center, and Soldotna coach Kyle Howell said that played a factor.
Mix in Dimond's depth and Soldotna faced a tough task.
"The (defense) has got to think quicker," Howell said of the smaller ice. "It's a faster game. We have two lines and they go four.
"They're right on top of you, fast, and they're zinging four lines out there. They have four lines that can roll."
Dimond sophomore Erik Cooper had a hat trick, while junior Austen Burgh had a pair of scores. Soldotna was outshot 46-15 in the contest, with SoHi goalie Mike McGrath making 39 saves.
"McGrath stood on his head," Howell said of the senior. "He had a good game."
Soldotna, making its first state appearance since 2003, fell behind 2-0 after the first period on goals by Cooper and senior Andrew Treptow.
The Stars got on the board just 1:37 into the second period on a goal by senior Clayton Glick, on assists from junior Daniel Markstrom and freshman Brad Duwe. Glick's shot eluded the glove of Dimond senior goalie Mickey Geraghty on SoHi's fourth shot of the game, and Geraghty was immediately lifted for junior Neil Gotschall.
With 5:01 gone in the second period, Cooper scored again to restore the two-goal cushion, but Soldotna's top line answered less than two minutes later. After some nice passing by Duwe and Glick, Markstrom lit the lamp.
"They worked hard," Howell said of his top line. "I tried to get to my third line as much as possible, and they all played well."
Only 20 seconds later, Dimond sophomore Max Fairchild scored for a 4-2 game. After Soldotna took its first penalty of the game, Dimond closed the period on a power-play goal by Burgh for a three-goal cushion.
Cooper and Burgh added goals in the third period to close the scoring.
The Stars now face the tough task of rising early today and facing Lathrop for the first time this season. Howell said his team will be ready.
"Actually, they were in pretty good spirits," he said. "They were all tired and drenched in sweat. The big thing is they are excited that we're here, with all the games going on and the atmosphere. I'm pretty happy about that."
Howell said Service, which dropped a decision to Soldotna earlier this season, outshot Lathrop 48-11 on Thursday.
On the bottom half of the bracket, Chugiak and South made the state tournament an all-Anchorage battle for the crown. Chugiak topped West Valley 3-1, while South beat Wasilla 4-2. Chugiak and South play today at 8 p.m., while Wasilla and West Valley play at 10:15 a.m.
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