Soldotna skaters fall victim to Chugiak, fatigue

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

The goal of Soldotna at the Class 4A state hockey tournament was to get a win and play three games.

Consider the Stars successful on one of those two counts.

SoHi bowed out of the state hockey tournament without a win Friday, losing to Chugiak 5-0 in a fourth-place semifinal at the Soldotna Sports Center.

But, owing to Thursday's four-overtime loss to Dimond, Soldotna can honestly say it got in three games worth of play at the tournament.

"We are proud, because taking Dimond to four overtimes is something to brag about," Soldotna senior defenseman Keith Herring said. "At the same time, going two and out isn't much to brag about."

The Stars played the Friday game like a fatigued prizefighter that's in the late rounds, behind on points and just one or two good blows away from the canvas.

For the most part, SoHi played defense and let the Mustangs expend energy attacking. But Soldotna, every once in a while, went for the knockout punch with a brief offensive flurry.

Soldotna's strategy worked for a while, as the Stars were down 1-0 after the first 28 minutes of the game. After that, though, the Stars hit the wall and were outscored 4-0 in the final 17 minutes of the game.

"Chugiak is every bit as tough as the Dimond squad," Soldotna coach Pat Nolden said. "To play that tough against Dimond one night and ask the same the next day against Chugiak, that was too much."

After a scoreless first period, SoHi attempted one of its knockout blows with 11 minutes, 11 seconds, left in the second period. Senior Derek Martin had a breakaway, but pinged the puck off the side pipe.

A minute later, Chugiak freshman Keegan Kucko trickled a backhand through a crowd of players and past SoHi goalie Egan Gleason.

"That first goal was huge," Nolden said. "When they got it, everything started to hurt a little more."

Soldotna still had enough resolve to kill off a two-minute, five-on-three power play. The power play came with 4:53 left in the second, when Martin and Peter Kim were both sent to the box.

Just as he got out of the box, Kim got a breakaway, but Chugiak goalie Sean Hoffbeck came up with the save. Hoffbeck and Brian Wnetrzak combined for 13 saves and the shutout.

"Our goalies had some huge saves," Chugiak coach Rodney Wild said after his team moved to 15-11-1 and avenged a 3-2 defeat by SoHi earlier in the year. "An early goal would have been big for Soldotna emotionally. It also might have made us press a little bit."

After the Hoffbeck save on the breakaway, Chugiak sucked the final wind out of Soldotna's sails with goals by Brandon Hall and Eric Gallagher in the final two minutes in the second period.

"Once we got down by a couple of goals, we knew it would be pretty tough to come back," Soldotna senior Scott Laurion said. "We played the equivalent of two games last night, then we had about 12 hours until we had to play again today.

"We didn't have enough energy to come back."

In the third period, the Stars had seven penalties for 38 minutes and had two players sent off the ice.

"The first thing to go is the legs," Nolden said. "The next thing is the mind. It was definitely a tough situation, and I wish it wouldn't have happened."

Herring shared those thoughts.

"After we were down, we still wanted to make a statement, but, of course, we didn't want it to be a negative statement," the senior said. "We needed less penalty minutes and more shots on goals and goals."

In the third period, Kucko scored his second goal, and notched his third point, of the game. Kucko, a freshman, hadn't had a point on varsity this year. He is a converted defenseman who only just recently joined the team from the junior varsity.

Laurion said Soldotna's tough finish will not sour the season. The Stars finish with a 16-8 record.

"It was still a good season," he said. "We went undefeated in the (North Star) Conference and we were the first team from this school to do that."

MUSTANGS 5, STARS 0

Soldotna 0 0 0 --0

Chugiak 0 3 2 --5

First period -- none. Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Chugiak 1 for 2:00.

Second period -- 1. Chugiak, Kucko (Siegel, Thompson), 4:55; 2. Chugiak, Hall (Landrum, Kucko); 3. Chugiak, E. Gallagher (Quinn, Willert), 14:56. Penalties -- Soldotna 4 for 16:00; Chugiak 2 for 12:00.

Third period -- 4. Chugiak, Kucko (Wheeler, DeRouin), pp, 1:26; 5. Chugiak, Willert (Quinn, Frechione), pp, 14:01. Penalties -- Soldotna 7 for 38:00; Chugiak 5 for 10:00.

Shots on goal -- Soldotna 6-3-4--13; Chugiak 11-10-16--37.

Goalies -- Soldotna, Gleason (21 shots, 18 saves), Verhelst (16 shots, 14 saves); Chugiak, Wnetrak (8 shots, 8 saves), Hoffbeck (5 shots, 5 saves).



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