By Finn Heimbold
The Homer High School hockey program has returned this season, taking the ice this week for the first time after missing all of the 2022-2023 season.
The team won state championships back-to-back in 2020 and 2021, a pedigree that incoming head coach Steve Nevak hopes to return to this Friday.
Nevak, returning along with assistant coach Matthew Stineff, last coached in the 2020 State Championship season for Homer. While the Mariners are ineligible for the state championship this year due to stipulations of missing the 2022-23 season, it doesn’t change the mindset for Homer.
“I’m really not focused on not going to state. I was gonna run this program whether we were going to state or not the same way. … Whoever does win the Division II State Championship, (Homer’s) gonna be that asterisk next to their name, and that asterisk is gonna say, ‘We’re state champs, but we’re lucky Homer’s not there.’ That’s my goal,” Nevak said.
The hockey program may be back after a year, yet some of the same issues that plagued the program the year before have persisted. Nevak pointed to the lack of numbers and subsequent lacking depth of talent at the high school level as the biggest problems facing the current stability of the program.
“ … There’s ebbs and flows to every program, and right now, as far as high school we’re just at a low point with some of the numbers,” Nevak said.
Nevak said that while the uncertainty of the roster and program as a whole may be challenging, the presence of the program itself is essential. If the Mariners didn’t produce a hockey team for the 2023 season, another stipulation from missing the previous season would force the team to sit out the next three years of competition. The earliest Homer High could apply to reinstate their hockey program would be right before the 2026 season, according to Nevak.
Keeping the program active, for the potential of upcoming hockey players looking for opportunity, as well as for the sake of graduating seniors, is a priority for Nevak.
“For me, the seniors are the most important, and I think the seniors last year, kinda got hosed, and the seniors this year, also kinda got hosed, unfortunately,” Nevak said.
Despite the limited turnout on the high school level, Nevak credited the deep talent pool coming up from Homer Hockey Association, the local youth hockey organization, within the next few years, as well as the continued support from the community and dedication from his current roster as key reasons the program has continued to endure.
“We got a couple new skaters. Our backup goalie just put on skates for the first time, two weeks in, but he’s got a great attitude. In the next few years, those numbers are gonna come up. You’ll probably see both a full varsity and JV team here in the next couple years,” Nevak said.
The Mariner hockey team gets its first test this week against peninsula rival Kenai Central Kardinals.
“I’m excited to see what they bring. It’s always fun playing against (Kenai Central head coach) Scott Sheldon. They’ve already played some games, so we can see where we’re at and where we could be,” Nevak said.
“I think honestly, our top line can compete with anyone. … If our goaltender has a good night, which he can any night, and we stay out of the penalty box, I think we have a shot.”
The puck drops between the Homer Mariners and the Kenai Kardinals in Kevin Bell Arena at 7 p.m. this Friday.