The Homer hockey team defeated North Pole 4-0 on Saturday at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center to take third place at the Division II state hockey tournament.
The No. 5 seed Mariners, who finish 9-11-1, shook off a Friday loss to No. 1 Houston in the semifinals to clinch a top-three finish at state for the fourth straight season. Homer was the runner-up in 2019, before winning in 2020 and 2021.
Houston defeated Palmer 4-2 for the championship.
Keegan Strong was the goalie in those 2020 and 2021 runs. He finished off his career at state with a 12-save shutout. Meanwhile, Homer forced Patriots goalie Nic Clark to make 34 saves. North Pole was the No. 7 seed.
Homer coach Mike Barth said there was a fun moment at the end of the game that summed up things for the seniors. There are six skating seniors, plus Strong in net.
All the seniors wanted to be on the ice to end the game.
“They were like, ‘Pull the goalie. Pull the goalie,’” Barth said. “I said, ‘No. I’m not gonna risk that.’”
Barth said it showed the team accomplished three goals the coach set for the game. The first was to win, the second was to have fun, and the third was to enjoy the moment.
“You can have fun, but don’t lose focus that this is one of those last moments in life — for many, a last high school hockey game,” Barth said.
Homer went up 1-0 in the first when Hunter Green, assisted by Matfey Reutov, scored on the power play.
In the second period, the Mariners scored two goals 23 seconds apart. Casey Otis, assisted by Dylan Arno and Owen Pitzman, scored, followed by Micah Williamson, assisted by Makary Reutov and Pitzman.
With just 29 seconds left in the game, Matfey Reutov scored on the power play with help from Sam Banks and Kazden Stineff.
Barth said winning and losing is important, but that the locker room after the game showed the other side of high school athletics.
“The seniors took over the locker room after the game and were sharing things they were taking away from their careers,” Barth said. “Very few mentioned games they won or lost. There were so many other moments that meant more to them.”
Strong made the state all-tournament team for the third straight season, with Casey Otis and Hunter Green also representing Homer.
Daniel Shelden made it for Kenai, while Dylan Dahlgren represented Soldotna.
Houston had Daniel Matveev, Anfim Konev and Eric Preboski, while Palmer had Stuart McQuillin, Carter Greco and Xander Logan. Nic Clark made it for North Pole.
Kenai 4, Soldotna 3, OT
Koda Norbeck scored short-handed and unassisted 2:29 into the overtime to give the Kardinals the victory in the fourth-place game.
“It felt good,” Kenai head coach Scott Shelden said. “We’ve worked so hard all year and this is such a close team. This team has a lot of character and it was nice to see these young men and women pull together to have it end that way.
“It doesn’t always work out that way. An overtime win in the last game of the year — not many can say that.”
The teams played four times this season, and all four went to overtime. Kenai won two, SoHi won one, and the other ended in a tie.
“The game was the best game of the tournament by far,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “It was a war. Both teams played with total heart.
“I’ve got to give it to Kenai. Anybody had a chance to win it. We’re not going to hang our heads about that game. It was a good one.”
Kenai, the No. 2 seed, ends at 14-9-1 overall, while SoHi, No. 4, ends at 12-10-2.
The Kardinals took a 2-0 lead through two periods. Logan Mese, assisted by Avery Martin and Daniel Shelden, scored in the first period, while Jacob Begich, assisted by Mese, scored in the second period.
“We felt like we were all over them,” Zurfluh said. “We’d have five or six shots, and they’d get a rush and score.”
The Stars stormed back by scoring the first three goals of the third period. Zurfluh said his team did a good job of sticking with the game plan even when down 2-0.
The first two came on the power play. Josh O’Lena scored on assists from Mika Boothe and Silas Larsen, and Boone Theiler scored unassisted.
With 6:54 to play, Larsen put the Stars out front on an assist from Dylan Davidhizar.
Coach Shelden said Kenai’s character has been tested all season and the Kards have continually come through by scoring late with the goalie pulled and winning four of six overtime contests.
“It’s a fight to the end, there’s so many ups and downs in a hockey game,” Shelden said. “We compare everything to life. We’re just trying to raise young men and women and teach them to stick with it for it to work out.”
With 3:13 to play, Mese struck again, assisted by Reagan Graves and Avery Martin, to tie the game and set up Norbeck’s overtime heroics.
Carson Koppes made 22 saves for the Kards, while Ayden See stopped 20 for the Stars.
“Soldotna, those are our brothers,” Shelden said. “I’ve coached those kids and our players play against each other — they’re from the same town.
“I have so much respect for that team, but Kenai won. It was fun and a huge game.”
Shelden said the team will miss five seniors. Though the Kards return talent, Shelden said for now he was focused on this season.
“We learned a lot about each other and about hockey,” he said. “It was a special team, for sure.”
Zurfluh said defensemen Aiden Burcham and Andrew Arthur were lost to big hits during the game.
“They weren’t dirty or malacious,” Zurfluh said. “That’s just the way hockey goes. It’s a tough game.”
The coach said senior defenseman Dylan Dahlgren was incredible in making up for those injuries, but everybody pitched in.
“It was a full team effort,” Zurfluh said. “Everybody chipped in where they had to.”
Zurfluh said the seniors will be missed, but the Stars have a bright future.
“It took me a half year to figure out how to coach the kids at the high school level,” the first-year coach said. “We had to make sure we were teaching the right things as a coaching staff.
“We got better and better and we’re looking to create a winning culture in the future and get our players in a position to move to the next level.”
Houston 2, Homer 1
The Hawks made a couple of early goals stand up in Friday’s semifinal.
Houston, the No. 1 seed, ended the two-year reign of No. 5 Homer atop Division II hockey. The teams had split in the regular season.
The Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Domnin Efimov and Afanasy Efimov had the tallies.
“We didn’t have the first period we wanted as a team,” Barth said.
After that, the Mariners and Strong settled in. Houston goalie Ari Burnside would not let in a goal until 5:59 was left in the game. Brock Barth scored on an assist from Hunter Green.
Homer then could not find the equalizer.
“In the second and third period, I felt like we played some of the best hockey we’ve played all season,” Barth said. “I couldn’t have asked much more of the team.”
Burnside made 20 saves, while Strong stopped 24.
In the other semifinal, No. 3 Palmer defeated No. 7 North Pole 3-1.
Soldotna 5, Monroe 2
The Stars, the No. 5 seed, toppled No. 8 Monroe Catholic to move to the fourth-place game.
Soldotna, which had lost an overtime game to Homer on Thursday, won the shot count 51-9. James Packee stopped 46 for the Rams, while Ayden See saved seven for the Stars.
Zurfluh said it was nice to get all his players some ice time.
“It was a nice win,” he said. “Everybody had fun.”
The score was 1-1 after the first period. Dawson Lockwood, assisted by Dylan Dahlgren, scored for SoHi, while Dylan Bailey scored unassisted for Monroe.
Soldotna jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first two minutes of the second period. Silas Larsen, assisted by Dylan Dahlgren and Gehret Medcoff, and Marshall Deraeve, assisted by Daniel Heath and Boone Theiler, had the goals.
Miles Fowler cut it to 3-2, but Medcoff, assisted by Aiden Burcham, had it 4-2 headed to the third.
Larsen, assisted by Josh O’Lena, had the lone goal of the third period.
Kenai 7, Juneau 4
The Kardinals, the No. 2 seed, toppled Juneau, the No. 6 seed, Friday to move to the fourth-place game.
After a 1-0 loss to North Pole on Thursday in which the Kardinals could not buy a goal, Kenai broke loose with seven goals. Kenai wins all three games this season against Juneau, including one in overtime.
Coach Shelden said he wanted to get everybody on the ice against the Crimson Bears, but that the Kardinals also wanted to win badly.
“We’re a family and everybody deserved to play,” Shelden said. “It was a must-win game for us.”
Daniel Shelden had two goals and three assists, Logan Mese had two goals and an assist, and Jacob Begich had two goals to lead the Kardinals.
The Kardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first period. The goals came from Mese, assisted by Shelden and Avery Martin; Ayden Spann, assisted by Shelden; and Begich, assisted by Josiah Petty and Landen Cialek.
Juneau cut it to 3-1 in the second on a strike by Kyla Bentz, but Shelden answered on assists by Landen Cialek and Caden Warren. Sam Bovitz then scored to cut it to 4-2 headed to the third.
Shelden, assisted by Mese, gave Kenai some breathing room with a goal with 10:39 to play. However, Kenai got into penalty trouble and Luke Bovitz and Sam Bovitz rattled off goals for the Crimson Bears to cut it to 5-4 with 8:30 left.
“Juneau’s very good, they just didn’t get the bounces this year,” Shelden said. “They’re well coached. I’ve got a lot of respect for Juneau.”
At that point, Kenai switched out backup goalie Kate Harris in favor of top goalie Carson Koppes. The two combined to make 16 saves on 20 shots, while Juneau’s Mason Sooter made 32 saves on 39 shots.
“Kate Harris has been there for us all year,” Shelden said. “You can’t practice every day for an hour and a half with one goalie.
“She played fantastic. We had a couple penalties and they scored a couple power-play goals and we wanted to change the momentum a little bit.”
Kenai rallied to score the last two goals of the game. Mese scored with help from Shelden, then Begich found an empty net with 32 seconds left.
Mariners 4, Patriots 0
North Pole 0 0 0 —0
Homer 1 2 1 —4
First period — 1. Homer, Green (Mat. Reutov), pp, 9:54. Penalties — North Pole 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Homer, Otis (Arno, Pitzman), 5:26; 3. Homer, Williamson (Mak. Reutov, Pitzman), 5:49. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 4:00; Homer 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Homer, Mat. Reutov (Banks, Stineff), pp, 14:31. Penalties — North Pole 2 for 4:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — North Pole 4-2-6—12; Homer 15-11-12—38.
Goalies — North Pole, Clark (38 shots, 34 saves); Homer, Strong (12 shots, 12 saves).
Kardinals 4, Stars 3, OT
Soldotna 0 0 3 0 —3
Kenai 1 1 1 1 —4
First period — 1. Kenai, Mese (Martin, Shelden), 2:44. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00; Kenai 2 for 12:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai, Begich (Mese), 12:54. Penalties — Soldotna 4 for 16:00; Kenai 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 3. Soldotna, O’Lena (Booth, Larsen), pp, 0:43; 4. Soldotna, Theiler (un.), pp, 4:28; 5. Soldotna, Larsen (Davidhizar), 8:06; 6. Kenai, Mese (Graves, Martin), 11:47. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 7. Kenai, Norbeck (un.), sh, 2:29. Penalties — Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna, 8-5-10-3—26; Kenai 2-12-9-1—24.
Goalies — Soldotna, See (24 shots, 20 saves); Kenai, Koppes (26 shots, 22 saves).
Hawks 2, Mariners 1
Homer 0 0 1 —1
Houston 2 0 0 —2
First period — 1. Houston, D. Efimov (Kuzmin),pp, 3:20; 2. Houston, A. Efimov (Reutov), 4:54. Penalties — Homer 1 for 2:00; Houston 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Houston 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 3. Homer, Barth (Green), 9:01. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Homer 7-6-8—21; Houston 11-9-6—26.
Goalies — Homer, Strong (26 shots, 24 saves); Houston, Burnside (21 shots, 20 saves).
Stars 5, Rams 2
Monroe 1 1 0 —2
Soldotna 1 3 1 —5
First period — 1. Soldotna, Lockwood (Dahlgren), 2:54; 2. Monroe, Bailey (un.), 12:21. Penalties — Monroe 2 for 4:00; Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Soldotna, Larsen (Dahlgren, Medcoff), 0:34; 4. Soldotna, Deraeve (Heath, Theiler), 2:54; 5. Monroe, Fowler (Harbour, Moore), pp, 5:53; 6. Soldotna, Medcoff (Burcham), 14:32. Penalties — 1 for 5:00.
Third period — 7. Soldotna, Larsen (O’Lena), 9:24. Penalties — Soldotna 5 for 18:00.
Shots on goal — Monroe 4-1-4—9; Soldotna 24-16-11—51.
Goalies — Monroe, Packee (51 shots, 46 saves); Soldotna, See (9 shots, 7 saves).
Kardinals 7, Crimson Bears 4
Juneau 0 2 2 —4
Kenai 3 1 3 —7
First period — 1. Kenai, Mese (Shelden, Martin), 2:59; 2. Kenai, Spann (Shelden), 13:52; 3. Kenai, Begich (J. Petty, Cialek), 14:45. Penalties — Juneau 3 for 14:00.
Second period — 4. Juneau, Bentz (Roomsburg), 5:24; 5. Kenai, Shelden (Cialek, Warren), 9:53; 6. Juneau, S. Bovitz (Bartlett), 12:26. Penalties — Juneau 2 for 4:00; Kenai 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai, Shelden (Mese), 4:21; 8. Juneau, L. Bovitz (Shibler), pp, 5:50; 9. Juneau, S. Bovitz (L. Bovitz), 6:30; 10. Kenai, Mese (Shelden), pp, 7:39; 11. Kenai, Begich (un.), en, 14:28. Penalties — Juneau 2 for 4:00; Kenai 4 for 16:00.
Shots on goal — Juneau 4-8-8—20; Kenai 15-13-11—39.
Goalies — Juneau, Mason Sooter (39 shots, 32 saves); Kenai, Harris and Koppes (20 shots, 16 saves).