The Kenai Central High School hockey team ran its record to 2-0 against rival Soldotna this season, but the gap between the two teams has certainly narrowed over the past week.
After winning 7-0 in last week's Peninsula Ice Challenge tournament, the Kardinals came back to beat the Stars 2-0 Saturday in a nonregion contest at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"We're getting better every week," said Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson. "We're tightening up defensively and getting more opportunities on the offensive end. We've still got to find a way to put the puck in the net, but we're giving up fewer shots and taking more shots."
Indeed, the Stars were able to challenge Kenai goaltender Garrett Myers with 17 shots, though Myers was able to turn all of them aside to notch the shutout.
At the other end of the ice, Soldotna goalie Jon Verhelst stopped 26 of Kenai's 28 shots, and the Stars defense did well not to give up any wide open shots to the Kardinals.
Kenai's first goal came with 3:32 to play in the second period with the Kardinals on the penalty kill. Kenai cleared puck to the Soldotna end of the ice, and the Kardinals forecheckers opportunistically jumped on an errant Soldotna pass. Daniel Christianson found himself alone with the puck in front of the goal and was able to tuck it past Verhelst. Phillip Ischi was credited with the assist.
"Me and Phil usually work pretty well together (on the penalty kill)," Christianson said.
The Kardinals' second goal came with just under two minutes left in the game. Joel Christianson took a slap shot from the right point which deflected off a Soldotna skater and past Verhelst.
"It was just a lucky shot," Joel Christianson said. "It hit off somebody's pads and went in."
While the score wasn't as high as last week's, Kenai coach Brian Gabriel Sr. actually thought his team played a better game.
"I feel a lot better about this game than last week's because we played a smarter game," Gabriel Sr. said. "The kids controlled their emotions, and we created opportunities their goalie came up big. I was pretty happy."
The Kardinals were able to keep the pressure on through much of the opening period, until the Stars went on the power play just before the first intermission. Soldotna finished the period with six shots on goal most of them taken during that power play to Kenai's 10.
Kenai never got a clear-cut scoring bid, though, a tribute to Soldotna's improved defensive play. The Stars were able to clog up everything in front of the goal, forcing Kenai's shooters to fire from the perimeter.
"They played a great game. ... Coach Swanson is doing a great job with those guys," Gabriel Sr. said.
Swanson said the young Soldotna squad was gaining experience as it goes along.
Soldotna's Dan Ghormley and Kenai's Kyle Coleman battle for the puck behind Kenai's goal in the first period Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We're playing all our young guys," Swanson said. "There's two seniors on our first two lines 10 guys, including defensemen so all the guys are getting a chance to get a lot of ice time."
The Kardinals next face Skyview Friday at the Sports Center. The Stars will get a shot at the Panthers Saturday.
Kardinals 2, Stars 0
Kenai 0 1 1 2
Soldotna 0 0 0 0
First period none. Penalties Kenai 4 for 16:00, Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Second period 1. Kenai, D. Christianson (Ischi), 11:28 sh. Penalties Kenai 3 for 6:00, Soldotna 3 for 6:00.
Third period 2. Kenai, J. Christianson (Ischi, T. Baldwin), 13:11. Penalties Kenai 3 for 6:00, Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots Kenai 10-14-428, Soldotna 6-5-617.
Goalies Kenai, Myers (17 shots, 17 saves); Soldotna, Verhelst (28 shots, 26 saves).
Kenai 11, Nikiski 1
Kenai Central defeated the Bulldogs in a nonconference game Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Dustin Moore led the Kardinals with four goals, all during Kenai's seven-goal second period. Micah Lillard netted three goals for Kenai.
Mike O'Brien scored the Bulldogs' only goal in the third period, assisted by Jabin Flensburg.
Lauren Baldwin made seven saves for the Kardinals. Nikiski's Luke Hardesty and Abby Womack split time in the Bulldogs' goal, combining to make 32 saves.
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