Soldotna's Brad Duwe, left, and Clayton Glick celebrate Duwe's first-period goal against South Anchorage on Friday night. Glick had an assist on the play.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
When Mike McGrath plays a better game between the pipes, Soldotna coach Kyle Howell wants to be there to see it.
For that matter, most everybody who attended Friday night's game between South Anchorage and the Stars would probably like to witness it as well.
A SoHi senior who transferred from Canada, McGrath denied 50 shots, 26 in the second period alone, single-handedly keeping the Stars in the game, but their offense couldn't muster the tying goal in falling to the three-time defending 4A state champion Wolverines, 2-1, in non-conference action at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"He was remarkable (Friday)," Howell said. "So, if he can play a better game, I'd like to see him when we're playing another big school."
Making McGrath's feat even more astounding was South's size, as they resembled a football team more than a hockey team. They're speed, too, was phenomenal, as the Wolverines seemed to be everywhere at once, wreaking havoc on McGrath and his defense all night long.
Add into the mix that South had won 50 of its last 51 games, the lone loss coming recently against Dimond, and his performance ranks with the best of them.
Soldotna's Kevin Garske and South Anchorage High School's Raymond Redmond tangle for the puck in the first period Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Although, he still believes he can play stronger.
"It was a good game but I know it wasn't the best I've ever played. I think I know I can do better," he said. "I feel good but I know I could do better. I wish we could have pulled out with the win. But stuff happens."
Soldotna rebounded on Saturday with a 4-1 win over visiting Eagle River. Anton Olson and Clayton Glick each scored a pair of goals while Stephen Kendrick gave McGrath a rest and stopped 17-of-18 shots.
The way Friday night's game against South began, however, it appeared as if the Stars were about to pull off perhaps the biggest win in school history.
Freshman Brad Duwe sent a hard shot off the boards behind the net and the puck graciously caromed right toward senior Clayton Glick, who fired a shot on South goalie Josh Benton.
But after making the initial save, the puck bounced in the direction of Duwe who put home the rebound for a 1-0 lead just 2:12 into the game.
The Wolverines then finally unleashed the first of their 52 shots at the 10:20 mark, which McGrath promptly denied, but they capitalized just over a minute later when Ryan Kircher stole the puck along the right boards, knifed in on McGrath and sent a wrister past the goalie, knotting the game at one.
That's when the Wolverines took over.
They uncorked four straight shots, all turned away, before Robb Haider received a pass at the blue line, cut in from the left and tried to sneak it by McGrath, but the senior made one of many incredible saves to keep the game tied after 15 minutes.
The second period then picked up right where the first left off.
While Soldotna was unable to clear the puck or create any solid scoring opportunities, recording just two shots in the period and 13 overall, South unleashed shot after shot, yet every one was denied by McGrath, including three straight saves on a hectic scrum in front of the net with 7:20 to play in the period.
"We got a lot of pucks to the net but McGrath stood on his head and played well," said South assistant coach Kjell Vassen. "He's a good goalie and he's played a couple of games of his life this year."
Following another two saves and a South shot that bounced off the crossbar, McGrath couldn't keep up with the Wolverines' innate ability to control the puck.
He was able to deny a shot by Haider but Connor Wright was perfectly positioned to send the rebound into the back of the net with 6:01 left in the middle frame.
McGrath, though, would face eight more shots, including another wild scrum at the buzzer, in keeping the Stars alive entering the third period.
"The second period, Mike was unbelievable. They had 27 shots on us and he kept us in it," Howell said. "It was kind of remarkable. It's been a long time since I've ever seen a team get 27 in a period. But a goalie to stop 26 of their 27, too, is pretty remarkable."
He was just as incredible in the final period.
After Duwe nearly scored when the Stars were down two men to open the third, anticipating a pass along the point that he stole before darting in on Benton and flipping a backhanded shot over the goal, McGrath saved five power-play shots, thwarting the Wolverines' advantage.
He later turned away four more shots on another South power play, helping set up a great finish.
Unable to pull the goalie, Soldotna relied on its offense in the waning moments of the game, allowing Duwe to rifle a shot from just inside the blue line with under 10 seconds left. After Benton made the save with his upper body, one of only 12 on the game for the sophomore goalie, the Stars kept the pressure on in the final seconds but couldn't net the tying goal.
"I was hoping we could stay with them'" Howell said. "They've been three-time state champs. We've got Mike. We've got some good younger kids. So, I was hoping we'd stay right there. I'm pretty happy with the outcome (Friday)."
With such a young team, and with senior forward Ben Christianson sidelined, the Stars exceeded their coaches expectations.
"Two-to-one with South for a small school like we've got, we're excited. The coaching staff's excited," he said. "We're right there. We're excited and we'll see how it goes down the road."
WOLVERINES 2, STARS 1
South 1 1 0 2
Soldotna 1 0 0 1
First period 1. Soldotna, Duwe (Glick), 2:12; 2. South, Kircher (unassisted), 5:44. Penalties South 1 for 2:00.
Second period 3. South, Wright (Haider, Schierhorn), 8:59. Penalties Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period Penalties South 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal South 13-27-12 52; Soldotna 6-2-5 13.
Goalies South, Benton (13 shots-12 saves); Soldotna, McGrath (52 shots-50 saves).
STARS 4, WOLVES 1
Eagle River 0 1 0 1
Soldotna 1 2 1 4
First period 1. Soldotna, Olson (unassisted), 4:11. Penalties Eagle River 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period 2. Soldotna, Olson (Silver), 10:25; 3. Eagle River, Russell (Sperry, Ghan), 10:50; 4. Soldotna, Glick (Markstrom, Fisher), 14:27 (pp). Penalties Eagle River 1 for 2:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Third period 5. Soldotna, Glick (Fisher), 13:43 (pp). Penalties Eagle River 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal Eagle River 7-9-2 18; Soldotna 15-14-15 44.
Goalies Eagle River, Felvarg (44 shots-40 saves); Soldotna, Kendrick (18 shots-17 saves).
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