After fending off the alumni 8-6 in a Dec. 27 at-home game, the Homer Mariner varsity hockey team is on the road this week, with games against Service and Eagle River on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and then back home for a full weekend of action against Palmer, Colony and Wasilla, Jan. 15-17.
“We are back on the road to Anchorage playing Service and a rematch with Eagle River. Both teams are playing well, some of the best in the state,” said Mariner Head Coach John Carlin. “After two weeks off and only the alumni game between means (the Mariners are) well rested, but a little rusty.“
Now, following a break for the holidays, the team is regrouping this week, assessing players’ health and getting back on the ice before heading north.
“Playing quality teams will elevate our game,” said Carlin of going against Service and Eagle River. “The conference home stance against valley opponents the following week is why we need this challenge.”
The Mariners’ hockey season of games began in November and continues into February.
“The first half (of the season) had its satisfying moments,” said Carlin. “We know we need to work hard all three periods to get wins. We are proud of the start and finish of the first half.”
The Dec. 27 alumni game was a celebration of Mariner hockey past, present, future. Sophomore goalie Riley Swanson tended net for the varsity, while senior goaltender Markian Polushkin traded his usual goalie pads for a hockey stick and skated as a forward.
“It was all in good fun,” said Polushkin of the game and his foray to the wing position. Alex Sanarov took care of the goal-tending for the alumni team.
“It was great to see so many varsity hockey players,” said 2008 graduate Josh Pitta. “It shows we have a good hockey program.”
Fellow alum Travis Brown played four years of varsity hockey before graduating in 2005. Brown helped behind the scenes to organize the game and followed up on the ice with steady play as a defenseman on the ice.
“It was a great, fun game to play,” said Brown.
The varsity squad had recent graduates Tommy Bowe and Dennis Sanarov on their side of the ice to balance the numbers since a handful of varsity skaters were unavailable for the game. Sanarov was his usual steady self on defense, while Bowe never missed a beat in working with former teammates and current varsity skaters such as Kiril Sanarov, with whom he teamed up for several goals.
Varsity defenseman JJ Sonnen scored a pair of goals and agreed with the theme of the night. “It was a fun game. It was great to see the players from past years back on the ice. Several of them were teammates just a year or two ago,” said Sonnen.
A 1999 graduate, alum Chris Owen, was the oldest skater on the ice.
“We didn’t even have varsity hockey back then in Homer. We played as a club team. It’s great to see the progress of hockey in Homer,” said Owen. After pondering the outcome of the scrimmage against the varsity, he added, “Next year we’ll have to practice first.”
With the final half of the season ahead, beginning with this weekend’s games against Service and Eagle River, Carlin said, “We are not backing away from challenges and it should stiffen our spine so we can rise to the occasion, and finish this season strong.”
A healthy roster and on-ice intensity are the keys to a successful second half of the season and providing some heart-racing entertainment for Mariner fans, according to the coach.
“ Come out and watch the level of play the Kevin Bell Arena has created,” said Carlin. “It will be exciting.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com. Wendy Wayne also contributed to this story.