The good news for the Kenai Central High School hockey team was that it was able to extend its season as long as possible, playing its final game on the final day of the state tournament.
The bad news for the Kardinals was that their last game turned out to be a loss, 3-1 to West Valley in the fourth-place game at the Alaska School Activities State 4A Championships Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"It was a fun game, but it wasn't what we all hoped for. We're happy that we made it to state you can't get down on yourself for making it to state," said Kenai captain Phillip Ischi, a senior.
"In a way we have (started a winning tradition), and in a way, we haven't. No peninsula school has ever made it past the first round. We haven't broken that barrier, so it's still a goal for the rest coming up."
Against West Valley, the Kardinals had trouble getting everyone firing on all cylinders for much of the game as the Wolfpack were able to contain Kenai's top skaters.
"They're a good team, especially that first line, with a lot of speed, and it was important to keep them bottled up," said West Valley coach Erik Drygas.
On offense, the West Valley was able to use its own speedy forwards to create some good scoring chances.
West Valley netted the first goal of the game at 10:30 of the first period, taking advantage of a power play. Bryan Mosher scored the goal on a slapper from the point, assisted by Dirk Richard.
The Wolfpack made it 2-0 with 1:43 left in the period, moving the puck up the ice on a nice breakout. Caleb Harrison got the goal, cutting into the slot and making a nice move to beat Kenai goalie Daniel Silver. Nick Haddad and Richard assisted on the play.
"It seemed like we played good at times, but at times it seemed like we were phoning it in," said Kenai coach Brian Gabriel. "We could have played better at times, but we put a little pressure on them, and their goalie came up big."
Kenai was able to kick things up a notch in the second period, putting nine shots on goal and blasting several more than went just wide of the net, but were unable to get one to bounce their way for much of the period.
Ischi finally put Kenai on the scoreboard with 1:19 to play in the frame, beating West Valley goalie Erik Largen with a shot from the left wing outside the Wolfpack blue line.
"We just needed a shot on net, and I basically tried to keep it low," Ischi said.
Largen appeared to have made the save, but somehow, the puck trickled through and across the goal line even Ischi admitted he's not sure how it went in.
Ischi's goal gave the Kardinals a spark, and Largen was called on to make three more impressive saves in the final minute of the period.
West Valley regained its two-goal cushion 8:48 into the third period, though, on a goal from Buck Healy, assisted by Peter Kilbourn.
Kenai had several good scoring opportunities to close out the period, but couldn't get another one past Largen.
"We were peppering the goalie with pucks. We just couldn't seem to get the puck in the net," said Kenai's C.J. Henley. "We had great opportunities."
Largen finished with 19 saves for the Wolfpack.
"We're pleased," Drygas said of his team's fourth-place finish. "We came down here, and everyone wants to win the tournament. We had a real good first game (a 2-1 loss to Dimond), but we weren't able to put the puck away. But overall, we're really pleased."
Henley said his teammates were disappointed not to have had their "A" game Saturday, but said the squad shows plenty of promise for next season.
"Our freshmen and sophomores, they've picked up since the beginning of the year," Henley said. "They help the team out we can roll four lines, and tire the other team out.
"They'll step up and be our goal scorers and our top defensemen next year."
As for this year, the Kardinals left the Sports Center ice with their second straight Region III/4A title, their second straight sixth-place finish at the state tournament, a little bit of disappointment, but no regrets.
"We played our hearts out," Henley said.
WOLFPACK 3, KARDINALS 1
Kenai 0 1 0 1
West Valley 2 0 1 3
First period 1. West Valley, Mosher (Richard), 4:30 pp; 2. West Valley, Harrison (Haddad, Richard), 13:17. Penalties Kenai 1 for 2:00, West Valley 1 for 2:00.
Second period 3. Kenai, Ischi (Lillard), 13:41. Penalties Kenai 1 for 2:00, West Valley 1 for 2:00.
Third period 4. West Valley, Healy (Kilbourn), 8:48. Penalties Kenai 2 for 4:00, West Valley 1 for 2:00.
Shots Kenai 7-9-521, West Valley 11.
Goalies Kenai, Silver (11 shots, 8 saves), West Valley, Largen (21 shots, 20 saves).
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