ANCHORAGE -- For nearly two periods Thursday afternoon, the Kenai Central Kardinals played the role of plucky underdog perfectly, giving the West Eagles much more than they bargained for in the opening round of the Class 4A state hockey tournament.
Then reality set in, as the Cook Inlet Conference-champion Eagles used four third-period goals to pull away for a 5-0 win at the Menard Memorial Arena in Wasilla.
"We played great for about two and a half periods," said Kenai coach Pete Iverson.
Kenai goalie Keegan Remsen was a big reason why the Kardinals skated into the third period down just 1-0 and in a legitimate battle to move on to the second round. Remsen stopped 44 shots in the game, including 26 in the first two periods for the North Star Conference runners-up.
"He stood on his head for us," Iverson said.
Remsen was a wall in the opening period, turning back all 13 shots West (20-5-0) fired at him, including a flurry during a final minute that saw him frustrate chances by nearly every Eagle on the ice. The sophomore was both lucky and good in the frame, once losing a West rebound in his skates before diving on the puck a split second before West could punch it in.
"We were trying to get the upset, but West is the No. 1 seed," Remsen said.
After standing his ground in the face of a 49-shot West onslaught, Remsen admitted he was a bit tired as the game began to get away from the Kardinals.
"I got worked out pretty good today," he said.
Though West applied the majority of the early offensive pressure, the Eagles' Blake Mendenhall wasn't exactly napping at the other end, blocking nine Kenai shots in the period to keep things scoreless after one.
Kenai's good fortune lasted nearly the length of the second period, but West finally solved Remsen with just over a minute to go when Adam Manzer flicked a perfect centering feed to Luc Johnson, whose clinical finish gave West a 1-0 advantage heading into the third.
The floodgates opened in the third period as West used its superior depth to pull away. Arin Olson gave the Eagles some breathing room when his power-play shot from the high slot got through a screen to put West up 2-0.
"I think after we got that first one, the boys started relaxing around the net," said West coach Jeff Carlson.
Beau Snelson put things effectively out of reach with the game's prettiest goal, stepping past Kenai defender Brady Perkins on a breakaway and beating Remsen on the stick side.
"Our boys ran out of legs there at the end," Iverson said.
The Eagles added scores by Jack Petrino and Logan Miller in the final four minutes to provide the final margin of victory. That was far more help than Mendenhall would need, as the senior backstop was flawless in his 17-save shutout.
"Blake being our goalie puts us in almost every game," Carlson said.
Carlson said his team may have had some early jitters brought on by watching Lathrop upset South Anchorage in tournament's opening game. Last season, West suffered a similar fate as the Wolverines, falling in the opening round to Palmer.
"I think we were maybe too emotional coming out," he said.
Despite the possibility his team came out tight against the underdog Kardinals, Carlson said he was impressed with Kenai's determined style of play.
"No matter what we did out there, they came out hard, really hard," he said.
Remsen said he enjoyed facing so many shots in the game, and said the Kardinals were encouraged by their solid effort against a championship-caliber team.
"It's a lot more fun than not facing any," he said. "Playing good teams is the best way to learn."
The loss dropped the Kardinals into the consolation bracket, where they'll face South (19-5-2) today at 8 a.m. -- a wake-up call Remsen said he would have rather avoided.
"We'll have to take it easy tonight," he said.
West will face defending champion Lathrop (13-8-0) at 5:30 p.m. with a berth in the state championship game on the line. South beat Kenai 8-2 in December, the lone meeting between the teams this season.
Kenai (9-12-0) still has plenty to play for. Back-to-back wins in the consolation round would give the team a fourth-place finish and tie the 2007 Kenai team for the best finish in school history.
"We'll try to use that for motivation," Iverson said.
EAGLES 5, KARDINALS 0
Kenai 0 0 0 -- 0
West 0 1 4 -- 5
First period -- no scoring. Penalties -- West 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 1. West, Johnson (Manzer, Wisthoff), 13:57. Penalties -- Kenai 1 for 2:00, West 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 2. West, Olson (Miller), pp, 4:00; 3. West, Snelson (un.), 5:47; 4. West, Petrino (Kadow, Langford), 11:00; 5. West, Miller (Butcher, Petrino), 12:39. Penalties -- Kenai 1 for 2:00; West 2 for 4.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 9-6-2--17, West 13-14-22--49.
Saves -- Kenai, Remsen (13-13-18--44), West, Mendenhall, (9-6-2--17).
Total penalties -- Kenai 2 for 4, West 3 for 6.
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