After an action-packed season, the Mariner Co-Op Hockey Team — with skaters from Homer Flex, Homer High, Kachemak Selo and Voznesenka — begins single-elimination play at Regions competition at the Brett Ice Arena in Wasilla today.
Up until last weekend, it was unclear if their first match-up would be against Soldotna or Kenai.
“We have and can beat both teams,” Mariner Head Coach John Carlin had told the Homer News.
At the Peninsula Ice Challenge in November, the Mariners led to a 4-3 victory over the Stars, but the tables were turned at a Jan. 20 at-home game when the Mariners suffered a disappointing loss to SoHi, 3-2. A week later, the Mariners claimed a 7-1 victory over the Kenai Kardinals.
The Jan. 31 game between SoHi and Kenai determined the Mariners’ first Regions opponent, with SoHi beating the Kards 3-1.
“It will be tough game,” said Carlin. “Then we will face another team that we have beaten before in league play. That is the road to State. It is possible, so please wish them the best, to play their best and represent our area well.”
Summing up the importance of winning the game with SoHi, goalie Markian Polushkin, a senior, said, “If we win, we play (again), if we lose, it’s over.”
For the team, winning boils down to “getting our heads straight, focusing on doing everything right, doing our jobs,” said Polushkin. Personally, it means “controlling rebounds, giving my team a chance to win,” he said.
Teammate Kiril Sanarov also recognized the importance of winning the Mariner-Stars game at Regions.
“This could be my last chance to play high school hockey,” said Sanarov, who plays center, wing or “whatever position Coach puts me in.”
Helping prepare for Regions, the Mariners played an intra-squad scrimmage last weekend, dividing the team mostly along class lines with upper classmen winning 4-2 over lower classmen.
“It was a super fun game. There wasn’t any pressure, we were messing around but taking it seriously, too,” said senior forward Maggie LaRue, one of the goal-scorers on a beautiful tip in front of the net.
Garrett Butcher was goal-scorer for the underclassmen.
“It was a really fun game. Everyone was working hard and it showed that we need everyone on the team for a chance at state,” said Butcher.
From Carlin’s perspective, the scrimmage was “perfect.”
“The kids had fun, got to work on some things, and nobody got hurt. It was just what we wanted,” said Carlin.
In 2014, Regions was held in Homer with the Mariners’ fans cheering them on. That homegrown support has increased this year, according to Ulian Kuzmin, a senior who plays forward.
“It’s the most I’ve seen them this year. I just love how loud the rink gets. It really helps,” said Kuzmin. “I hope they keep coming out year after year.”
Aware of their home communities’ backing, the Mariners promised to do their part in on-ice action at Regions.
“We’re going to try the hardest and hopefully it goes our way,” said Polushkin.
Wendy Wayne contributed to this story.