The Kenai Central hockey team got a little bit of encouragement heading into the holiday break, but Soldotna got the win.
The Stars received two goals and two assists from Daniel Markstrom and two goals and an assist from Brad Duwe in notching a 4-2 North Star Conference victory over the Kardinals on Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Soldotna improves to 6-5-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the conference, while Kenai falls to 1-12 overall and 1-4 in the league.
On Nov. 8, the Stars and Kardinals met in the third game of the season for both teams and Soldotna rolled to a 9-0 victory. Does Friday's result show Kenai is starting to pick up the systems of Pete Iverson, in his first year as head coach at Kenai?
"As a team, the kids are coming together," Iverson said. "It's definitely a transition year for all of us. We're progressing, it's just slow."
While the score was relatively close, the Stars did outshoot the Kardinals 45-13. Two things made the score closer -- Kenai goalie Matt Barrett and an advertisement on the boards.
Barrett made 41 saves on the night. Some of his best work came midway through the second period, when Soldotna went on the power play with 7:58 left in the period and Barrett turned away several point-blank opportunities during the two-minute session. Then with 5:14 left in the period, Barrett put an exclamation point on the string of fine goaltending by stuffing the ever-dangerous Duwe on a breakaway.
"Barrett made some great saves," Soldotna coach Aaron Swanson said. "A couple of them were unbelievable -- you could just hear some of the kids saying 'Wow.'"
Wow would have been an understatement for what allowed the Kardinals to get on the board with 10:30 to play in the second period. Bobby Myles was trying to whip the puck around the boards when the puck perfectly struck a piece of Plexiglas covering one of the ads. SoHi goalie Stephen Kendrick spun to follow the puck along the boards, not realizing the ad has sent the puck straight for his leg. The rubber bounced off Kendrick's leg and into the goal.
"We've been practicing that all season," said Iverson, with a smile on his face. "Those are the kind of goals that I would hate to be a goalie on. Fortunately for us, garbage counts."
Although garbage counts, Iverson knows a team can't count on garbage. That's why the coach would like to start developing consistent offensive threats like the SoHi top line of Markstrom, Duwe and Sean Endsley, who had two assists. The line accounted for all of SoHi's scoring.
"They're tough," Iverson said. "They see each other real well. They cover the ice really well and create a lot of opportunities."
Duwe got the scoring started with 1:53 left in the first when he tipped in a Kevin Garske shot from the point. Just over a minute later, Duwe skated in alone on Barrett for a 2-0 advantage. With 13:15 left in the second, Markstrom increased the lead with a power-play goal where he beat Barrett on the near post. Then with 9 seconds left in the second, Markstrom completed SoHi's scoring when he received a pass from Duwe and bested Barrett with a wrister.
Markstrom said his squad was happy with the win, but added the Stars realize they will have to convert more opportunities if they want to achieve their preseason goal of a conference tournament championship.
"I think we can get it," Markstrom, a senior, said of the conference crown. "We have to work more on burying the puck in big games, and we didn't bury the puck on some of the opportunities we had tonight."
Iverson was encouraged by the play of linemates Myles, Holly Perkins and Brady Perkins. Holly Perkins, on assists from Brady Perkins and Myles, scored Kenai's third-period goal. Iverson also said Dom Eubank had a solid game.
Stars 4, Kardinals 2
Kenai Central 0 1 1 --2
Soldotna 2 2 0 --4
First period -- 1. Soldotna, Duwe (Garske, Markstrom), 13:07; 2. Soldotna, Duwe (Markstrom, Endsley), 14:35. Penalties -- Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. Soldotna, Markstrom (Endsley, Fisher), 1:45; 4. Kenai, Myles (un.), 4:30; 5. Soldotna, Markstrom (Duwe, Garske), 14:51. Penalties -- Kenai 3 for 6:00, Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- 6. Kenai, H. Perkins (B. Perkins, Myles), 13:07. Penalties -- Kenai 3 for 6:00; Soldotna 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai 1-8-4--13; Soldotna 15-16-14--45.
Goalies -- Kenai, Barrett (45 shots, 41 saves); Soldotna, Kendrick (13 shots, 11 saves).
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