Special teams proved to be the difference Thursday night when the Soldotna hockey team hosted Wasilla at the Soldotna Sports Center.
After trailing for two periods, the Warriors scored two third-period, power-play goals, lifting them to a 3-1 North Star Conference win over SoHi.
Wasilla did just as its coaching staff asked and peppered Soldotna's goaltender Dawson Pearson with 34 shots.
"Our game plan was to put pucks on net," said Warriors head coach Bill Sturdevant. "We continued to stick to the game plan."
Down 1-0, Wasilla knotted the score at one apiece on a power-play goal from Jade Johnson just over three minutes into the third. As Pearson slid to his left, the puck took a strange carom off of the end boards and came out in front of the net to Pearson's right. Johnson buried it in the empty net.
The goal came roughly 20 seconds after SoHi's Josh Harvey missed a breakaway opportunity, putting the puck wide to the right of the net.
The Warriors found themselves on the man advantage again late in the third period. With 10 seconds left on the power play, Wasilla's Michael Johnston drove SoHi's zone. He made a move around the defenseman and ripped a shot past Pearson to give his team the lead with less than two minutes to play.
Eric Johnson added an empty-net goal to seal the Warriors victory with 20 seconds to play.
Stars head coach Aaron Swanson said his team needs to improve on the penalty kill. With just 16 shots all game, his team also needs to create more offensive chances, Swanson said.
"I was glad with our work ethic," Sturdevant said. "We're pleased with the effort."
Swanson echoed Sturdevant's sentiments about his own team.
"The effort all night was great," he said. "Going in, we knew they were going to be a tough team."
Wasilla threw 16 first-period shots at Pearson, but he was up to the task for each one. The Warriors had two, full power plays and 50 seconds of a third in the opening period, but failed to put the puck behind Pearson. He turned away 32 of 34 shots faced.
"Their goalie played a fantastic game," Sturdevant said. "He made some big saves."
The Stars opened the scoring midway through the first period on a goal from Josh Kerkvliet. Spencer Walgenbach put a shot on net and Kerkvliet buried the rebound behind Wasilla net minder Chris Yaskus.
Wasilla went on the power play three minutes into the first when Zack Waters went to the box for interference. They kept the puck in the Stars' zone but couldn't capitalize on the man advantage.
The Warriors again went on the power play with just over five minutes to play in the first. And again, Pearson and the Stars killed it off.
Wasilla ended the opening period with 50 seconds of a power play, with the same end result. Though they managed just five opening period shots, SoHi went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
The second period ended as the first did, with Soldotna leading 1-0.
The Warriors began the second period with 1:10 left on the power play. After killing it off, the Stars then went on the man advantage with Trent Wohlers in the box for boarding. But Wasilla prevented SoHi from adding to their lead.
Most of the second was played in the Stars own zone, but Pearson denied every Wasilla scoring chance. Many of the Warriors' nine second-period shots on net were from long range and posed no real scoring threat.
Both Sturdevant and Swanson agreed that SoHi's defense was able to force the Warriors to take shots from the perimeter.
Sturdevant said his team likes to control the game deep in the opposing team's zone and create traffic in front of the net. Though they executed the game plan, SoHi protected their zone well in the first two periods.
After the long road trip to the peninsula, Sturdevant said his team got off to a slow start but finally found a groove and got the win.
The Stars host Colony tonight at 8:30 p.m. and Palmer Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at the Sports Center. The Knights topped the Kardinals, 7-6, late Thursday night in a game that went to overtime.
The Warriors travel to Homer today for a game at 6 p.m. The Mariners were defeated by Palmer 8-1 Thursday in North Star Conference play. Sophomore Ivan Good scored four times for the Moose. Freshman Zane Jerman scored his first career goal for Palmer in the win.
Steven Acher, Dalton Buness and Piers LaFrance also scored for Palmer.
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warriors 3, Stars 1
Wasilla 0 0 3 -- 3
Soldotna 1 0 0 -- 1
First period -- 1. Soldotna, Kerkvliet (Walgenbach, Perletti), 7:18. Penalties -- Soldotna, 3 for 6:00.
Second period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Wasilla, 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 2. Wasilla, J. Johnson (Hanson, Wohlers), pp, 3:07; 3. Wasilla, Johnston (un), pp, 13:08; 4. Wasilla, E. Johnson (Wohlers), en, 14:40. Penalties -- Soldotna, 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Wasilla, 16-9-10 -- 35; Soldotna, 5-5-6 -- 16.
Goalies -- Wasilla, Yaskus (16 shots, 15 saves); Soldotna, Pearson (34 shots, 32 saves).
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