If you're going to host a brand new tournament, you might as well start the event off with a win.
The Soldotna High School hockey team did just that Thursday, opening the Peninsula Ice Challenge with a 5-1 win over the East Thunderbirds.
In the late game Thursday, the Kenai Central Kardinals skated to a 5-3 win over the North Pole Patriots.
The round-robin tournament continues today when the Kardinals square off against the Thunderbirds at 6 p.m. and the Stars face the Patriots at 8:15. East plays North Pole Saturday at 5:45 p.m. while Soldotna and Kenai square off in the tournament finale at 8 p.m.
"I've wanted to beat East since the first game of the state tournament my freshman year," said Soldotna goaltender Kelly Gee, now a senior with the Stars.
"That was a 3-4 game until just a couple of minutes to go, when they put in a goal. I've been waiting for a chance to play them again. I remember every minute of that game."
Gee made the most of his opportunity, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced while getting a solid effort from a scrappy group of Stars defensemen.
"Our defensemen have been steady, and that's all you can ask for," said Soldotna coach Pat Nolden.
Nolden has been using David Newby, Mike McIntosh, John Gleason and Scott Laurion as his main defensive pairings, mixing in Keith Herring and Kyser Moeglein as well.
"We've got some great defensemen this year," Gee said. "John stepped back from forward, and Mac is one of the smartest guys I've played with."
While Soldotna's blue-liners were taking care of business in their own end of the building, the Stars attack was steadily building up a head of steam.
"Tonight we put the puck in the net," Nolden said. "We got on step. We started doing the things we've been practicing for three weeks."
Dan Jensen got the scoring started for the Stars, collecting a puck in the right circle, making a cut toward the net and flipping his shot past the East goalie with 1:42 left in the opening period.
East tied the game with a goal by Matt Van Ness 2:27 into the second period, but the Stars regained their edge 3:37 later when Billy Smith tucked a neat little backhand shot five-hole on the East netminder. Eric Newby assisted on the play.
"In the first period, they were all over us," Gee said. "They thought they were going to run away with it. They scored that goal, and we realized we had to turn it up. Our guys got their engines going, and it was all downhill for East after that."
Peter Kim got the next goal for the Stars on a Soldotna power play, pouncing on a rebound and stuffing it in the net. Jensen and Eric Newby assisted on the play.
"You've just got to be ready in front of the net and keep your stick on the ice," Kim said.
Kim set up Soldotna's third goal of the second period, leading a short-handed rush and throwing the puck at the net. Anthony Murray was waiting on the doorstep to finish off the play.
Gleason finished off the scoring with a goal 3:56 into the third period.
The Thunderbirds, with a two-man advantage, opted to take a chance and pull the goalie, giving East six skaters to Soldotna's three.
The move almost worked as an unmarked Thunderbird came from behind the net to jump on a rebound, but Gee got his right foot out to deflect the shot. The puck went straight to Gleason, who fired it the length of the ice and found nothing but net.
"I didn't even see that guy on the back door," Gee said. "I knew I had had to get something out there. The puck popped off my leg and right onto John's stick. That was pretty pivotal -- the save and the goal really shut them down."
STARS 5, THUNDERBIRDS 1
East 0 1 0 -- 1
Soldotna 1 3 1 -- 5
First period -- 1. Soldotna, Jensen (unassisted), 13:18. Penalties -- East 1 for 2:00, Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 2. East, M. Van Ness (Sherman), 2:37; 3. Soldotna, Smith (E. Newby), 6:14; 4. Soldotna, Kim (E. Newby, Jensen), 9:51 PPG; 5. Soldotna, Murray (Kim), 13:01 SHG. Penalties -- East 3 for 6:00, Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- 6. Soldotna, Gleason (unassisted), 3:56. Penalties -- East 9 for 34:00, Soldotna 5 for 10:00.
Shots on goal -- East 11-5-7--23, Soldotna 6-13-8--27.
Goalies -- East, Mattison (27 shots, 22 saves); Soldotna, Gee (23 shots, 22 saves).
Power play opportunities -- East 0 for 6, Soldotna 1 for 8.
KENAI 5, NORTH POLE 3
The Kardinals were able to get a jump on the Patriots in the first period and hang on through a frantic third period for the win.
"We jumped on them in the first period like we planned," said Kenai coach Brian Gabriel Sr. "We knew they played Colony last night, and we wanted to take advantage of that. They lost 6-2, and this gives us a little bit of an idea how we might stack up against Colony."
The Kardinals certainly stacked up well against the Patriots. Steven Campanella turned aside 19 of the 22 shots he faced in his first start of the season while the Kenai offense peppered the North Pole goalie with 45 shots.
Jack Darsey got the scoring started for the Kardinals with a hard slap shot from the blue line that beat the Patriots goalie. Mike Brown gave the Kardinals a 2-0 lead with less than a minute to go until the first intermission, taking a feed in the high slot and wristing a shot into the net.
North Pole's Phillip Wells single-handedly pulled the Patriots back into the game with a pair of unassisted goals in the first three minutes of the second period, but Owen Brewer regained the lead for the Kardinals on a breakaway, sweeping the puck from right to left just in front of the North Pole goalie and then flipping it into the net when the goalie sprawled to take away the low shot.
Brian Gabriel Jr. made it a two-goal advantage with 12:21 left in the game, roofing his shot for an unassisted goal in the third period.
Tim Hanson pulled the Patriots back to within a goal with eight minutes to play, but the Kardinals netted a power-play goal with 3:43 left in the game when Phillip Ischi scrapped in front of the North Pole net for a loose puck and stuffed it home.
"There were some major momentum swings there," Gabriel Sr. said. "They came out fired up in the second period."
Gabriel Sr. was pleased to see Hunter Sirois get himself into the mix in front of the net. Sirois hit the post twice.
KARDINALS 5, PATRIOTS 3
North Pole 0 2 1 -- 3
Kenai 2 1 2 -- 5
First period -- 1. Kenai, Darsey (Ischi), 2:43; 2. Kenai, Brown (Haman, Oberg), 14:06 PPG. Penalties -- North Pole 2 for 4:00, Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. North Pole, Wells (unassisted), 1:47 PPG; 4. North Pole, Wells (unassisted), 3:57; 5. Kenai, Brewer (Gabriel Jr.), 6:48. Penalties -- Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Third period -- 6. Kenai, Gabriel Jr. (unassisted), 2:39; 7. North Pole, Hanson (Lowry), 6:59; 8. Kenai, Ischi (Johnson), 11:17 PPG. Penalties -- North Pole 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- North Pole 2-11-9--22, Kenai 16-12-17--45.
Goalies -- North Pole, Graham (45 shots, 40 saves); Kenai, Campanella (22 shots, 19 saves).
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