The Kenai Central High School hockey team played to a raucous, standing-room-only crowd at the Soldotna Sports Center Thursday, and the Kardinals put on quite a performance in the opening round of the Alaska School Activities Association State 4A Hockey Championships.
Unfortunately for the Kardinals, the show ended in heartbreak as West scored with one second left to take a 5-4 victory and advance to today's championship semifinals.
The loss sends Kenai to the consolation bracket, where the Kardinals will face Lathrop today at 1:30 p.m.
"What an exciting game," said West coach Jeff Carlson. "It's tough for Kenai to lose in the last second, because they played a gutsy, gutsy game out there."
"That's as tough as they get," said Kenai coach Brian Gabriel. "I think we had the momentum and we were strolling into overtime after we came back to tie it up -- it's just heartbreaking."
Indeed, the Kardinals were able to battle back after being down by as many as two goals. Charlie Smith tied the game at four midway through the third period when he stole a puck in the West zone and slipped a shot past goalie Matt Schneider for an unassisted tally, bringing to their feet anyone in the crowd not already standing.
The Kardinals had to kill off a penalty with four minutes left to play -- which they did -- and the game appeared to be headed for an extra period until the Kardinals were whistled for a cross check with just 42 seconds left.
West took a time out at the start of the power play, and Kenai couldn't quite clear the puck as the seconds ticked down. Kenai goalie Daniel Silver stopped a hard shot, but the rebound went right to West's Geoff Mies, who had an open net to shoot at. Mies took his time with the shot and found the back of the net just before the final buzzer for the Eagles' third power-play goal of the game.
"It's unfortunate the game needed to be decided that way (on a power play)," Carlson said. "We each had our chances, and we each capitalized on some chances. We just had the last one."
Gabriel also would have liked to have seen the game end with the teams at even strength, but said his players knew they had left everything on the ice.
"They know they played well. They couldn't give any more than what they did," Gabriel said. "I don't think they feel bad about the loss, I think they feel bad about the way they lost, with the penalty at the end."
West scored the first goal of the game, capitalizing on a power play 4:31 into the first period. Danny Kovak tallied for the Eagles with a low, hard shot from the right point. Luke Bennett and Matt Bridges assisted on the play.
The Kardinals equalized 3:22 into the second when Phillip Ischi was able to win the puck deep in the West zone. Ischi took the puck behind the Eagles net then fired his wraparound bid to the far side of the net to beat Schneider.
Ischi's tally seemed to fire up the Eagles, though, and West regained its lead by scoring a pair of goals 24 seconds apart.
Mies netted a power-play goal for the Eagles, assisted by Kyle Bailey and Kyle Hall, at 6:11 of the period, and Saygan Boehmer knocked in his own rebound at 6:35 to give West a 3-1 lead.
Kenai pulled back to within a goal at the 9:43 mark of the period on a pretty end-to-end power-play rush.
Jonathon Smith had to dig the puck out of the corner in his own zone, and connected on a cross-ice pass with Charlie Smith to start the rush.
The Kardinals gained the West zone, and Daniel Christianson, trailing on the play, found himself all alone in the high slot with the puck on his stick. Christianson put the puck away, with CJ Henley and Ischi netting assists on the play.
West came right back with a goal from Bennett with 3:18 left in the period, but Kenai regained some momentum to close out the period.
The Kardinals went on the power play when Ischi was pulled down on a breakaway chance, and Kenai was able to maintain pressure for the final 2:32 -- culminating in a power-play goal on a rocket from the point by Jonathon Smith as time expired. Ischi netted the assist on the play.
"We were just hoping we could come out and get a win," said Charlie Smith. "We knew we could beat them.
"(Now) we're hoping we can get a win (today)."
EAGLES 5, KARDINALS 4
West 1 3 1 -- 5
Kenai 0 3 1 -- 4
First period -- 1. West, Koval (Bennett, Bridges), 4:31 pp. Penalties -- West 5 for 10:00, Kenai 6 for 12:00.
Second period -- 2. Kenai, Ischi (unassisted), 3:22; 3. West, Mies (Bailey, Hall) 6:11 pp; 4. West, Boehmer (Young), 6:35; 5. Kenai, D. Christianson (Henley, Ischi), 9:43 pp; 6. West, Bennett (unassisted), 11:42; 7. Kenai, J. Smith (C. Smith,Ischi), 0:00 pp. Penalties -- West 1 for 2:00, Kenai 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 8. Kenai, C. Smith (unassisted), 7:37 pp; 9. West, Mies (Bennett), 14:59 pp. Penalties -- West 3 for 6:00, Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Shots -- West 11-13-14--38, Kenai 7-9-7--23.
Goalies -- West, Schneider (23 shots, 19 saves); Kenai, Silver (38 shots, 33 saves).
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