The Kenai Central High School hockey season came to an end Friday as the Kardinals dropped their consolation semifinal 3-2 to the Lathrop Malemutes at the Alaska School Activities Association State 4A Hockey Championships at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"It's really hard," said Kenai senior Ross Baldwin. "It's great making it to state, but it's hard to go out knowing we could have and should have gone farther. I think we knew we had a chance today right up until the final buzzer, but we just didn't get the breaks."
In fact, the Kardinals took the game to the Malemutes for 45 minutes, whether they were even strength, on the power play or working the penalty kill.
But Lathrop goaltender Togi Letuligasenoa proved equal to the task, turning aside 29 of the 31 Kenai shots he faced.
Letuligasenoa's biggest saves came with 1:25 left in the second period, when a Kenai skater was able to break into the Lathrop zone all alone. Letuligasenoa sprawled to stop the first shot, then got a pad on the follow-up to keep the Malemutes up 3-1 heading into the second intermission.
"Their goalie did a good job of taking away the open net," Kenai coach Brian Gabriel Sr. said. "He was always in a good position. He's a big goalie and he takes up a lot of the net."
Lathrop took a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Kyle Kinda and Mike Spencer. Kinda found himself unchecked on Kenai goalie Ryan Whiteley's back door, tucking the puck home at 8:23 of the first period. Spencer scored with 1:15 left until the first intermission, getting into position in front of the Kenai goal to score on a one-time shot.
Whiteley was the surprise starter for the Kardinals as Gabriel Sr. opted to give regular starter Steven Campanella a chance to get focused after tough outings against East on Thursday and Colony at the North Star Conference tournament last Saturday.
"Coach didn't tell me until about 10 minutes before the game," Whiteley said. "I was nervous. I don't think I played up to my potential. I was pretty stunned to start."
Whiteley made several good stops during the first period, and the Kardinals got him a goal midway through the second period.
Owen Brewer netted the workingman's goal for the Kardinals. Kenai was able to pin the puck in the Lathrop zone, work it low and then find Brewer for the shot from the bottom of the left circle. Boone Hall and Hunter Sirois were credited with assists on the play.
The goal inspired the Kardinals and the decidedly pro-Kenai crowd. Kenai continued to generate offense despite going on the penalty kill, ringing a shot off the post just 30 seconds after scoring.
Lathrop scored what proved to be the game winner with 5:18 left in the second period. The Malemutes' power play ended with 5:27 to go in the period, but Kenai was unable to clear the puck from its zone. Lathrop's Nathan King scored the goal.
Campanella replaced Whiteley after the third goal.
"They ended up splitting their last game," Gabriel Sr. said. "They're both seniors, so it worked out pretty good."
Kenai continued to attack -- Adrian Borchgrevink was hauled down on a short-handed breakaway with 4:15 to play in the period, sprung free by a great pass from Brewer, but Letuligasenoa remained tough to beat until Jack Darsey scored for the Kardinals 57 seconds into the third period.
Kenai's second goal shaped up the same way as the first. Sirois and Zack Hicks worked hard to keep the puck in the zone, setting up Darsey, who was swooping in from his position at the right point.
Kenai spent the rest of the third period looking for the equalizer without any luck. The Kardinals pulled their goalie with about a minute left, but even though several faceoffs in the Lathrop zone generated some chances on net, Kenai couldn't quite draw even.
"We pulled the goalie at the end and we had three or four grade A chances," Gabriel Sr. said. "Everybody really worked hard -- it made it a memorable last game."
MALEMUTES 3, KARDINALS 2
Kenai 0 1 1 -- 2
Lathrop 2 1 0 -- 3
First period -- 1. Lathrop, Kinda (Rex), 8:23; 2. Lathrop, Spencer (Trump, Rex), 13:45. Penalties -- Kenai 2 for 4:00, Lathrop 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. Kenai, Brewer (Hall, Sirois), 7:22; 4. Lathrop, King (Kinda), 9:42. Penalties -- Kenai 2 for 4:00, Lathrop 3 for 14 minutes.
Third period -- 5. Kenai, Darsey (Hicks, Sirois), 0:57. Penalties -- Kenai 6 for 17:00, Lathrop 4 for 13:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 7-14-10--31, Lathrop 7-12-5--24.
Goalies -- Kenai, Whiteley (11 shots, 8 saves), Campanella (9:42 second period, 13 shots, 13 saves); Lathrop, Letuligasenoa (31 shots, 29 saves).
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