The high school hockey season on the peninsula is just two weeks old, but things already are shaping up to make for an interesting season.
The Soldotna Stars are on a streak to open the season, winning their first four games, including three games in the Peninsula Ice Challenge to take that tournament title.
Two of those wins came at the expense of rival Kenai, but the 2-3 Kardinals are excited about things to come.
Skyview has skated to a 2-1 record thus far. Its only loss came at the hands of the Kardinals.
And the Nikiski Bulldogs have been able to stay composed against the peninsula's 4A schools, as well as notching wins against Great Land Conference opponent Monroe.
The Stars have put together a challenging schedule for themselves. Soldotna will hit the road for the first time this season, traveling to Anchorage Saturday to face off against Dimond.
"If we can play with Dimond, we can play with anybody in the state," said Soldotna coach Pat Nolden. "If we can't, then we need to get better.
"We'll find out if all three of our lines can play against the Anchorage schools. ... We're running six defensemen right now, and that's another measuring stick. Can all six play? It's just a matter of finding the right combinations. Dimond's got a lot of speed. It'll be interesting."
Also on the Stars schedule is last season's state runner-up, the West Valley Wolfpack, and the defending state champion Chugiak Mustangs, as well as a full slate of competitive North Star Conference games.
Nolden was quick to point out that with just three seniors, the Stars are a young team with a long way to go.
"The key to this whole season will be leadership from the players on the team," Nolden said. "You can only go as far as your leadership will take you."
Nolden has a solid foundation to build on as last year's squad finished second at the conference tournament, advancing to the state championships.
Kelly Gee returns to reprise his role for the Stars between the pipes, but he'll have plenty of help this season from Egan Gleason and Kenny Bishop.
John Gleason has been patrolling the blue line for the Stars, along with Mike McIntosh, David Newby, Scott Laurion, Kyser Moeglein and Keith Herring.
Anthony Murray adds some impressive size to the Stars forward lines, and Nolden has been impressed the hustle in the offensive zone of Daniel Jensen, Eric Newby, and Peter Kim.
Derek Martin broke his wrist in the season opener, but Nolden expects big things from him once he returns to the ice.
Nolden and the Stars have seen the Kardinals twice this season, and the Soldotna coach said Kenai will be a team to watch.
"There's a lot of talent there," Nolden said. "They can beat you at any time, and if you beat them, you've earned it."
Steven Campanella is Kenai's No. 1 netminder, and Jack Darsey and Brian Gabriel Jr. limit any opponents' chances on net while never hesitating to go forward and jump into the play when Kenai gains the blue line at the other end of the rink.
The Kardinals have a nice balance of playmakers and finishers. Adrian Borchgrevink joins the mix up front. Owen Brewer has a nose for the net, and the Kardinals have been getting contributions from Boone Hall, Ross Baldwin, Mike Brown and Corey Janson. Freshman Hunter Sirois has caught coach Brian Gabriel Sr.'s eye, and classmate Phillip Ischi has been able to find the goal.
Kenai also takes its first road test of the season Saturday, heading to Anchorage to play West.
Skyview hits the road for games at Houston and Wasilla this weekend. Saturday's game against the Warriors will be the first conference game of the season for the Panthers and should give them a good idea about where they stack up with the rest of the NSC.
The Skyview Panthers have plenty of talent to put on the ice, starting with netminder Mike Bell.
Mike Woodward, Chad Moore, Jesse Waltemyer and David Krumm bring their senior leadership to the squad.
Lukas Felman has made himself a dangerous puck handler in the Panthers' offensive zone, and Skyview also has had contributions from John Fiermening and John Allen in its first three games.
The Nikiski Bulldogs begin their first road trip of the season with Great Land Conference games at Glennallen, Kenny Lake and Houston.
Irv Smith takes the reins as head coach, replacing Bob Bird.
"This is a great group of kids," Smith said. "That's one of the reasons I came out of semi-retirement from coaching. This is a good group of parents and a good group of kids to work with."
Five seniors are lacing up their skates for the Bulldogs this season, and Smith is filling in the rest of the holes with some enthusiastic younger players.
"Since they put (Peterson Memorial) out there, we're starting to get kids with experience in the high school program," Smith said.
Nigel Penhale has been backstopping the Bulldogs, and Seth Tauriainen is back to lead Nikiski defensively.
Quincy Bird is a threat to score whenever he touches the puck up front, and Todd Brigham, David DeShong, Brad Harrison, Reuben Floyd and Daniel Gerhauser have all made an impact early in the season.
Brett Allerman, Ryan Cowie, Chris Parrish, Josh Pepper, Zack Womack and Josh Winters have all contributed to the Bulldogs early success.
Smith has brought in Jason Avago to serve as assistant coach, and has used contacts made in 12 years of coaching KPHA teams by bringing in some of his other former players to help out from time to time. Penhale in particular has benefited from the tutelage of former Soldotna goalie Matt Haman.
"These are kids I coached when they were younger," Smith said. "I'm trying to incorporate some of the younger coaches here. This is the next group of coaches coming through."
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