Soldotna High School's knock-down, drag-out win over Kenai in Friday's semifinal of the Region III/4A hockey championship may have clinched a trip to the ASAA State 4A Hockey Championships, but it also may have left the Stars a little drained for Saturday's region title game against the Colony Knights at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Knights dictated the pace of play for most of the game, hanging a 4-1 loss on the Stars to clinch the region championship.
"It was amazing how flat we came out," said Soldotna coach Pat Nolden. "Maybe the night before took a little of the edge off. We got juiced tonight."
The Knights, who advanced to the final on the strength of a 4-1 win over Wasilla Friday, put the first goal on the board with just 41 seconds left in the first period. With each team playing with four skaters after a pair of matching majors was issued to Soldotna's Peter Kim and Colony's Nate Pokryfki for some after-the-whistle ugliness, Colony's Seth Reda took a pass from Tommy Lehe unchecked in the left circle.
Soldotna goaltender Egan Gleason got a good look at the puck, but Reda's shot had just enough on it to trickle through and into the net.
Soldotna equalized 4:25 into the second period. The Stars cleared the puck from their own zone just to relieve some pressure applied by the Knights, but Eric Newby hustled the length of the ice to beat a Colony defender to the puck at the other end of the building. Newby played the puck out in front of the net for Dustin Sena, who had worked hard to beat his man down the ice and was in position to flip a shot past Colony goalie Greg Strohmeyer.
The Knights didn't give the Stars much breathing room after that, though, outshooting Soldotna 14-5 in the frame.
"Our play was real sloppy," Nolden said. "We backchecked and forgot to pick up the right man and left the defense to fend for itself. With their speed, it was death."
Colony regained its lead at the six-minute mark of the second period when Reda flung the puck at the Soldotna net from a wide angle, only to have it sneak past Gleason just inside the post for an unassisted goal.
Chris Crosta gave the Knights a two-goal cushion with 29 seconds left in the second period. The Knights won a faceoff just outside Soldotna's blue line, and when the Stars couldn't get a stick on the puck in their zone, Joey Guild gathered it in and fed Crosta for the goal.
Doug Lehe added one more for the Knights 3:27 into the third period, pouncing on a rebound of a shot by Crosta before the puck could be covered up. Matt Piatt also was credited with an assist on the play.
The score could have been even worse as the Knights hit the Soldotna crossbar three times during the course of the game.
"They controlled the neutral ice," Nolden said. "If you control the neutral ice, you control the game. We'd get it out there, and they'd get the puck and it would be right back in our face."
The win gives Colony the top seed from Region III in the state tournament, which starts Thursday at the Sports Center. The Knights will face the No. 3 team from Anchorage Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Stars enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region III and will open the competition Thursday against the top team from Anchorage at 4 p.m. Thursday.
"It's a little disappointing to have gone through so much success during the season and then go through a display like this, but the state tournament is a new week and we'll pick it up," Nolden said. "This was a tough one. The seniors that I have are four-year players. They played when times were kinda tough, and they matured all the way through -- and you only get one chance."
KNIGHTS 4, STARS 1
Soldotna 0 1 0 -- 1
Colony 1 2 1 -- 4
First period -- 1. Colony, Reda (T. Lehe), 14:19. Penalties -- Soldotna 3 for 9:00, Colony 3 for 9:00.
Second period -- 2. Soldotna, Sena (E. Newby), 4:25; 3. Colony, Reda (unassisted), 6:00; 4. Colony, Crosta (Guild), 14:31. Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00, Colony 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 5. Colony, D. Lehe (Crosta, Piatt), 3:27. Penalties -- Soldotna 2 for 4:00, Colony 2 for 4:00.
Shots -- Soldotna 3-5-10--18, Colony 7-14-10--31.
Goalies -- Soldotna, Gleason, Bishop (31 shots, 27 saves); Colony, Strohmeyer (18 shots, 17 saves).
2001-2002 Region III Awards
Good Sport Team
Anthony Murray, Soldotna; Morgan Ochoa, Wasilla; Billy Forrest, Kenai; Seth Waltemyer, Skyview; Matt Piatt, Colony; Dylan McKenzie, Palmer; Garrett Myers, homer.
Skills Competition Winners
Speed Skate -- 1. Billy Smith, Soldotna; 2. Adrian Borchgrevink, Kenai. Accuracy -- 1. Taylor Adams, Skyview; 2. Brian Gabriel Jr., Kenai. Showdown -- 1. Dan Jensen, Soldotna; 2. Eric Newby, Soldotna. Goalie -- 1. Morgan Jett, Palmer.
All-Region First Team
Forwards -- Billy Smith, Soldotna; Adrian Borchgrevink, Kenai; Seth Reda, Colony; Owen Brewer, Kenai; Eric Newby, Soldotna; Matt Piatt, Colony.
Defensemen -- Joey Guild, Colony; Brian Gabriel Jr., Kenai; Nate Pokryfki, Colony; David Newby, Soldotna.
Goalie -- Garrett Myers, Homer.
Region III/4A Most Valuable Player -- Seth Reda, Colony.
Region III/4A Coach of the Year -- Brian Gabriel Sr., Kenai.
All Region Second Team
Derek Martin, Soldotna; Lukas Fellman, Skyview; Jonah Stewart, Palmer; Tom Lehe, Colony; Jamie Roberts, Wasilla; Dan Jensen, Soldotna; John Schmelz, Wasilla, Kevin Oberg, Kenai; Shane Colegrove, Wasilla; Levi Goldsby, Homer.
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