Kenai's Michael Drobrick, second from right, struggles to return to a fight with Soldotna's Eli Waldrip, left, as referees Joe Cannava and Ian Tracy try to get Drobrick off the ice in the second period Thursday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Soldotna goaltender Chance Rockett had just about everything in front of his net covered. Indeed, it was a pair of nifty plays behind the Stars goal that helped the Kenai Central High School hockey team take a 3-1 North Star Conference win Thursday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
“We ran into a goalie on fire,” said Kenai coach Nate Kiel. “When that happens in a game like this, it can make things interesting.”
With the score tied at one entering the third period and with Rockett able to turn aside just about every shot to get through Soldotna’s five-man box defense, the Kardinals grabbed the momentum with a pair of goals in the first two minutes of the frame.
Kegan Kiel struck first for the Kardinals, carrying the puck behind the Soldotna goal. Instead of going all the way around the goal to attempt a wrap-around shot, Kiel waited for Rockett to start moving across the crease, then cut back the other way and tucked the puck in on the unprotected side of the net.
Owen Dukowitz made it a two-goal lead 48 seconds later, dashing behind the Soldotna net with the puck and scoring on a wrap-around. Brad Fusaro and Justin Gabriel were credited with assists on the play.
“I felt good, except for that minute and a half in the third period,” Rockett said. “I had to get back on my game and I didn’t, but other than that, I felt solid.”
Rockett said his teammates did a good job executing their defensive scheme, forcing Kenai to the outside and trying to prevent the Kardinals from getting too many good looks from dangerous spots.
“They had a lot of shots from the perimeter,” Rockett said. “We tried to keep them to the outside, no one in close. They still got a lot of shots from in close, but Kenai’s a fast team, they have that crazy-fast line.”
Coach Kiel said he was most pleased that his team was able to regroup and play hockey after emotions got out of control in the second period.
“The second period was frustrating, probably for both teams. There was some rough play, and some unnecessary physical play. What I’m most pleased with is that this team decided no matter what, we’re going to get back to playing hockey,” he said.
The first period ended without a goal on the board, though both sides had several good chances. With quite a bit of jostling on the ice as players from both teams were looking to get a lick in on their rivals, the Kardinals held the puck in the Soldotna zone for much of the period.
Rockett came up with 20 saves in the period, including several big ones in the final minute as the Stars killed off a Kenai power play.
Soldotna’s best scoring chance came midway through the period when Brian Herring broke free and fired a long shot on goal, but Kenai goalie Lauren Baldwin proved up to the task.
Kenai opened the second period right where it left off in the first, applying pressure in the Soldotna end of the rink.
The intensity quickly turned ugly, though, as Kenai’s Michael Drobnick took a couple swipes at Rockett before a whistle as the Soldotna goalie covered up a loose puck in his crease.
Soldotna’s Kevin Laurion was sent to the box for two minutes for shoving Drobnick after the whistle, but moments after the ensuing faceoff, Drobnick and Soldotna’s Eli Waldrip went at it behind the play. Both players were issued 5-minute majors for fighting and game disqualifications. Drobnick was issued an additional 5-minute major as he was combative with the officials escorting him to the penalty box.
Once the penalties were killed off, and with the referees clamping down on the extracurriculars a bit, the game opened up and both teams scored before the end of the period.
The Kardinals got on the board first as Brad Fusaro took a wide-angle shot that glanced off Rockett’s shoulder and into the net. Stephen Cronkhite assisted on the play at 8:22 of the period.
Soldotna came right back, scoring on a power play just 1:06 later. Herring got the goal on a shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle while Clayton Glick and Kevin Garske picked up assists.
“We played great,” said Soldotna coach Kyle Howell. “The kids executed our new system well, and our freshman goaltender had a good night. Overall, the kids all played well.”
“We’ll keep our heads up. We’ll keep working hard. We’ll get ‘em next time,” Rockett said.
After Thursday’s game, the Kardinals certainly won’t be looking past the Stars.
“Never underestimate them they always come out strong,” Fusaro said.
Fusaro and Kegan Kiel said that for stretches, the Kardinals put together some of their best hockey of the season.
“We were working as a team,” Kiel said.
“We were all connecting, and cycling the puck,” said Fusaro.
Kardinals 3, Stars 1
Soldotna 0 1 0 1
Kenai 0 1 2 3
First period none. Penalties Soldotna 2 for 4:00, Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Second period 1. Kenai, Fusaro (Cronkhite), 8:22; 2. Soldotna, Herring (Glick, Garske), 9:28 pp. Penalties Soldotna 5 for 13:00, Kenai 5 for 16:00.
Third period 3. Kenai, Kiel (unassisted), 0:32; 4. Kenai, Dukowitz (Fusaro, Gabriel), 1:18. Penalties Soldotna 2 for 4:00, Kenai 3 for 6:00.
Shots Soldotna 5-10-722, Kenai 20-13-1346.
Goalies Soldotna, Rockett (46 shots, 43 saves), Kenai, Baldwin (22 shots, 21 saves).
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