Through two and a half periods Thursday, the Soldotna High School hockey team had the Service Cougars on the ropes.
The Cougars got a couple of odd bounces to go their way late in the third period, though, and skated away with a 6-3 win in the opening round of the Alaska School Activities Association State 4A Hockey Championships at the Soldotna Sports Center.
In Thursday's other opening-round games, Chugiak defeated West Valley 3-0 while Dimond notched a 9-0 win over Lathrop. East beat Colony 4-2.
Soldotna plays West Valley in today's 10 a.m. consolation semifinal, followed by Lathrop and Colony at 1 p.m.
Chugiak meets Service in today's 4 p.m. championship semifinals, and Dimond plays East at 7 p.m.
Consolation semifinal winners will meet to decide fourth place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Championship semifinal losers play for third place at 4:30 p.m. and the puck drops for the tournament championship at 7:30 p.m.
"The kids had an outstanding effort," Soldotna coach Pat Nolden said after the loss to Service. "I couldn't be more pleased about the way they played. A few breaks either way, and we'd be moving to the right of the bracket."
In fact, the Cougars faced a scoreboard deficit until late in the second period despite outshooting the Stars 43-23.
Derek Martin put the Stars on the board with 37 seconds left in the first period, firing a shot from the left point on a Soldotna power play.
"I got the puck, looked up and saw the goalie sliding across," Martin said. "I had the whole right side of the net to shoot at."
Service goalie Jordan Pearce got a glove on the puck, but couldn't keep it out of the net. Eric Newby and Billy Smith were credited with assists on the play.
"We got excited," Martin said of the Stars after scoring the first goal. "We scored first the last time we played them (a 6-2 loss), but this time was different. After we scored, we felt like we could win."
Soldotna was able to keep Service off the scoreboard through the first period thanks to some solid defense and goaltending from Egan Gleason.
"We adjusted our system so our forwards were covering their points. We didn't want their points shooting, then we just manned up," Soldotna's Anthony Murray said.
"We were in our defensive zone a lot, but we hunkered down," Nolden said.
The Cougars weren't able to solve Soldotna's defense until 3:36 of the second period, when Peter Cartwright got a couple of whacks at a puck in front of Gleason before poking it home. Moises Gutierrez and Nick Mazzolini assisted on the play.
Soldotna answered just 3:13 later, though, when Billy Smith intercepted a pass at center ice, split the Service defensemen and tucked the puck past Pearce for a short-handed goal.
Service tied the game with 2:38 left in the second period when Trevor Hyatt flung the puck toward the net from the left wing, sneaking it past Gleason.
The Cougars took their first lead of the game 56 seconds later. Pearce poke-checked the puck away from Soldotna's Smith, who was in alone on a breakaway, and the Cougars countered quickly, getting the puck to Gavin Dittman for his first goal of the night.
"They put two in real quick, and the momentum kinda shifted," Soldotna's Martin said. "We played real good, but those two goals changed the whole game."
The Stars were able to tie up the game with a power-play goal 2:35 into the third period. Martin took a shot from the point, and after the puck was knocked around in front of the net, Eric Newby was able to pop it past Pearce.
Things started bouncing for the Cougars after that, though. Paul Duffy put Service up 4-3 at 5:56 of the period with a shot off a faceoff that bounced past Gleason, and Dittman netted his second goal of the night at 7:35 of the period when a puck played around the boards took a freak bounce out in front of the net. The puck landed on Dittman's stick, and he had an open net from point-blank range as Gleason was looking for the puck along the boards on the other side of the goal.
Soldotna had a few more good scoring chances, but Pearce came up with some big saves and Dittman made it a hat trick, scoring an empty-netter with 47 seconds left in the game.
"We're disappointed in the way we played, but you've got to be happy to come out with the win," said Service coach Brush Christiansen. "Our younger players carried us tonight. In the first two periods, we had too many guys stick-handling instead of moving the puck, and they shot us down. It was the younger guys that were moving the puck."
Soldotna still has a shot at fourth place should it defeat West Valley in today's consolation semifinal.
"We don't want our season to end (this) morning," Newby said. "We want to play as many games as possible."
Chugiak 3, West Valley 0
The Mustangs potted a goal each period to advance with a win over the Wolfpack.
Jason Shaffer, Bryan Gallager and Eric Gallager each scored for the Mustangs, and Chugiak goaltender Brian Wnetrzak turned aside 16 shots for the shutout.
West Valley netminder Eric Largen made 24 saves on 27 shots.
Dimond 9, Lathrop 0
Matt Lauver led the Lynx with two goals and an assist as Dimond notched and opening-round win over Lathrop. Seven other Dimond players recorded goals, and John Sitton notched the shutout.
MUSTANGS 3, WOLFPACK 0
West Valley 0 0 0 -- 0
Chugiak 1 1 1 -- 1
First period -- 1. Chugiak, Shaffer (Wheeler, Johnson), 5:00. Penalties -- Chugiak 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 2. Chugiak, B. Gallager (unassisted), 8:01 (pp). Penalties -- West Valley 2 for 4:00, Chugiak 3 for 6:00.
Third period -- 3. Chugiak, E. Gallager (B. Gallager), 0:50. Penalties -- West Valley 1 for 2:00, Chugiak 3 for 6:00.
Shots -- West Valley 6-7-3--16, Chugiak 9-9-9--27.
Goalies -- West Valley, Largen (27 shots, 24 saves); Chugiak, Wnetrzak (16 shots, 16 saves).
LYNX 9, MALEMUTES 0
Lathrop 0 0 0 -- 0
Dimond 3 4 2 -- 9
First period -- 1. Dimond, Kemmerer (Ma. Lauver, Geraghty), 3:03; 2. Dimond, Tannahill (Murphy, Lovdahl), 5:43; 3. Dimond, Mi. Lauver (Stralka), 10:21. Penalties -- Lathrop 1 for 2:00, Dimond 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 4. Dimond, Jolly (Lovdahl), 1:31; 5. Dimond, Stramp (Hendrickson, Flores), 4:42; 6. Dimond, Jolly (Stralka), 5:41; 7. Dimond, Ma. Lauver (Kemmerer), 9:50. Penalties -- Lathrop 1 for 2:00, Dimond 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 8. Dimond, Geraghty (Kemmerer, Mayra), 5:15; 9. Dimond, Ma. Lauver (Kemmerer, Geraghty), 10:41. Penalties -- Lathrop 1 for 2:00, Dimond 2 for 4:00.
Shots -- Lathrop 2-1-2--5, Dimond 15-17-8--40.
Goalies -- Lathrop, Fisher, Coleman (40 shots, 31 saves); Dimond, Sitton (5 shots, 5 saves).
COUGARS 6, STARS 3
Soldotna 1 1 1 -- 3
Service 0 3 3 -- 6
First period -- 1. Soldotna, Martin (E. Newby, Smith), 14:23 (pp). Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00, Service 3 for 6:00.
Second period -- 2. Service, Cartwright (Gutierrez, Mazzolini), 3:36; 3. Soldotna, Smith (unassisted), 7:00 (sh); 4. Service, Hyatt (Montague), 12:22; 5. Service, Dittman (Martin, St. John), 13:18. Penalties -- Soldotna 3 for 14:00.
Third period -- 6. Soldotna, E. Newby (Jensen, Martin), 2:35 (pp); 7. Service, Duffy (unassisted), 5:56; 8. Service, Dittman (unassisted), 7:35; 9. Service, Dittman (Martin), 14:13 (en). Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00, Service 1 for 2:00.
Shots -- Soldotna 10-8-5--23, Service 11-19-13--43.
Goalies -- Soldotna, Gleason (42 shots, 36 saves); Service, Pearce (23 shots, 20 saves).
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