The holiday season is traditionally viewed as a good time to renew old friendships. But as the Kenai-Soldotna Alumni Classic hockey game shows every year, the Christmas season also isn't a bad time to renew rivalries.
The sixth annual Alumni Classic will take place Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center at 7 p.m. Proceeds from the game go to the booster clubs of the respective high schools to help pay for things like ice time.
Until last year, the Cold War between the two clubs had been experiencing a detente of sorts, with Soldotna often rolling up big victories. The Stars won by a combined score of 29-14 between 1996 and 1998.
However, last Christmas saw an infusion of top-notch Kenai players like Jeremy Downs, who now plays for the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Brian Canady, who plays Junior A hockey, bring a spark back to the rivalry.
The Kardinals had a three-goal lead in last year's contest before Soldotna came back to tie the game, then win it in a shootout. The line of Ben DeRaeve, Carl Saltz and Terry Gomez starred for Soldotna, accounting for all six goals in regulation.
"Last year, we should have lost," Soldotna coach Michael Gabriel said. "They were leading 6-3 in the third period. We snuck the trophy out the back door on that one."
With Canady and Downs back again this year, Gabriel is expecting things to remain hot on the ice.
"It'll probably be one of the best ones yet," Gabriel said. "They've caught up already. The catching up's been done.
"They want that trophy and they want it bad. Last year, we hung on tooth and nail and got that baby in a shootout. I expect a full-blown fight, a knock down, drag out, 'Whose barn is this, ours or yours?'"
Bob Downs, who will be coaching the Kenai team along with Steve Kiel, said Kenai's resurgence in the rivalry is no surprise.
"I think the games kind of mirror what happened in years past," Downs said. "A couple years back, Kenai was strong and swept Soldotna. Those players are all out of school now."
Although the game is technically an exhibition, the competitive juices always seem to be flowing plenty thick by the third period.
"The majority of the players are under 25 or 26 years old, and those are very competitive years," Downs said. "Whether anybody admits it or not, things start out friendly but by the end of the game people are out for blood.
"It'll be very intense, as it usually is. Once you're in your 30s and 40s, you realize you have to go to work the next day and this isn't the NHL. Sometimes, these young guys haven't figured that out yet."
A sign of how much this game means to players may have come Wednesday, when Jeremy Downs talked Canady into playing. Canady has been playing an intense junior schedule this year, so he was planning on resting over Christmas break.
Kenai will need all the help it can get because Soldotna adds 2000 graduate Lee Green to its roster this year. Green has signed on to join Downs at UAA next year.
The evening at the sports center will include more than the hockey game. There will be turkey bowling for Coca-Cola products and a puck shoot to win a 2000 Dodge Neon.
Kenai roster -- Nick Wirz (2000 graduate), Aaron Swanson (2000), Pat Espy (1999), Dustin Every (1999), Jimmy White (1999), Cody Seymour (1999), Matt Brown (1999), Jeremy Downs (1999), Bryon Coleman (1999), Lief Swanson (1998), Tommy Tomerdly (1998), Travis Every (1997), Justin Hall (1994), Tim McCarthy (1994), Eric Downs (1994), Frank Kilfoyle (1990), Johny Bea (1989), Terry Eubank (1989), Scott Sheldon (1988), Rick Swanson (1984), Brian Canady (1998). Coaches -- Bob Downs, Nate Kiel.
Soldotna roster (subject to change) -- Scott Rosin, Ben DeRaeve, Corey Dettmer, Pat Nolden, Tony Gabriel, Paul Gabriel, Joe Gabriel, Shaun Friendschuh, Joey Newby, Tim Newby, Lee Green, Donnie Cho, Chris Gabriel, Eric Derleth, Derek Eagle, Karl Glick, Jimmy Love. Coach -- Michael Gabriel. Asst. coach -- Hoaken Heersink.
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