The Soldotna hockey team ended its season with a 4-1 loss to Lathrop on Friday at the Class 4A state hockey championships at the Wasilla Sports Complex.
The Stars, who ended their season with a 14-10 record, faced the tough task of playing Lathrop at 8 a.m. on Friday after facing Dimond in a 5 p.m. game on Thursday.
The game did not start well for Soldotna, as the Stars fell into a 3-0 hole after the first period. With 8:01 left in the first, Brooks Poe put the Malemutes on the board with a goal.
At the close of the first period, the amount of time Soldotna spent in the penalty box began to affect the score. The Stars were penalized 11 times for 22 minutes in the game, while Lathrop was penalized five times for 10 minutes.
With 3:52 left in the first period, Alec Hajdukovich scored a power-play goal for a 2-0 lead. Less than a minute later, Bryan Gunderson pushed the puck past Soldotna netminder Mike McGrath for another power-play goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Stars were outshot 13-6 in the first period on the way to facing a 26-15 deficit on shots in the game.
After the first period, McGrath, a senior, ended a fine one-year run at Soldotna when junior Stephen Kendrick took over between the pipes. McGrath made 10 saves on 13 shots, while Kendrick would stop 12 of the 13 shots he faced in the final two periods. Senior goalie Chris Shaffer made 16 saves for the Malemutes.
In Soldotna's last two losses before Friday's loss, the opposing team changed goalies in the middle of the contest and pulled out the victory.
In the North Star Conference title game against Wasilla last week, the Warriors were trailing the Stars 2-1 when Jacob Dargis replaced Jesse Hugli in the net. The Warriors rallied for a 3-2 victory.
In Thursday's game against Dimond, the Stars had just cut the lead to 2-1 when the Lynx pulled goalie Mickey Geraghty for Neil Gotschall. Dimond went on to a 7-2 victory.
Soldotna tried to create similar magic by replacing the goalie in the second period, when Ben Christianson lit the lamp on assists from Anton Olson and Timo Gleason at the 7:35 mark for a 2-1 game.
Still spending more time than the Malemutes in the sin bin, the Stars could not find the equalizer. Just 1:34 into the final period, Gunderson gave Lathrop a two-goal cushion with his second goal of the game. The Stars were outshot 4-2 in the final frame.
This was the only time Soldotna and Lathrop played this season. The Malemutes had a young team that improved steadily throughout the season. Lathrop opened with a 6-0 loss to Wasilla in early November.
On Saturday, the Malemutes showed just how much they had improved by losing to the Warriors 2-0 in the fourth-place game at state.
Despite the loss, the Stars achieved several successful feats in the first season under head coach Kyle Howell. By finishing second in the NSC, Soldotna qualified for state for the first time since 2003. The Stars also defeated Service 2-1 this season for the program's first victory over the Anchorage powerhouse.
In other Friday results at the tournament, Wasilla topped West Valley 7-3 in the fourth-place bracket. In the 4A semis, South beat Chugiak 3-1 and Service upset Dimond 2-0. It was only Dimond's third loss of the season. In Greatland Conference semifinals, Delta topped Tri-Valley 5-2 and Glennallen defeated Kenny Lake 4-2.
On Saturday, Tri-Valley defeated Kenny Lake 5-2 for third place while Dimond topped Chugiak 9-2 for third place.
Delta then edged Glennallen, 2-1, in the Greatland Conference title game Saturday.
The result of the 4A championship game was not available as the Clarion went to press.
MALEMUTES 4, STARS 1
Soldotna 0 1 0 1
Lathrop 3 0 1 4
First period 1. Lathrop, Brooks (Thayer), 6:59; 2. Lathrop, Hajdukovich (Munson), 11:08 (pp); 3. Lathrop, Gunderson (Poe, Olson), 11:53 (pp). Penalties Soldotna 3 for 6:00; Lathrop 1 for 2:00.
Second period 4. Soldotna, Christianson (Olson, Gleason), 7:25. Penalties Soldotna 4 for 8:00; Lathrop 1 for 2:00.
Third period 5. Lathrop, Gunderson (Olson), 1:34. Penalties Soldotna 4 for 8:00; Lathrop 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal Soldotna 6-7-2 15; Lathrop 13-9-4 26.
Goalies Soldotna, McGrath (13 shots-10 saves), Kendrick (13 shots, 12 saves); Lathrop, Shaffer (15 shots-14 saves).
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