The Mariner Co-op Hockey Team went into the North Star Conference Championships at the Menard Arena Wasilla as the fifth-seeded team, with peninsula teams Soldotna fourth-seeded and Kenai sixth.
In the opening day of play Feb. 5, Kenai faced Colony and fell 5-0 in the single-elimination tournament. Homer was matched with Soldotna, the SoHi team taking a one-point early lead in the first period and maintaining their lead through the second period of play.
In the third period, the Mariners found their groove. With five minutes to go, Owen Delehanty tied the game on a shot off a feed from Kiril Sanarov. Clem Tillion won the face-
off, and Sanarov skated the puck forward before finding an open Delehanty at the right faceoff circle.
Delehanty didn’t waste any time on the shot, shooting directly off the pass, putting Homer on the scoreboard and tying the game.
With the game going into overtime, players from both teams gave a valiant effort. Six minutes into overtime, Sanarov, assisted by Tillion and Anton Kuzmin, tipped a shot from the point into the net, giving the Mariners the lead and a ticket into the semifinals against No. 1 seed Wasilla.
Homer made 28 shots on goal to SoHi’s 31. Mariner goalie Markian Polushkin had 30 saves.
“We were excited to play and we had a healthy amount of nerves,” said Head Coach John Carlin of the game against SoHi.
“(The Mariners) never quit believing. We asked them to dig deep and they responded.”
Prior to the beginning of the Mariner-Warrior semifinal game on Friday, the teams were honored by Gov. Bill Walker skating onto the ice and dropping a ceremonial first puck. The Warriors grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first period, with the Mariners working hard to close the gap.
In the second period of play, Sanarov buried a penalty shot and, assisted by Delehanty and Tillion, scored another point, ending the period with the Mariners trailing by one.
By the final period, Wasilla came out in full force, however, and distanced themselves to a 7-2 final score.
“The third period saw a few penalties that sucked the wind out of our sails,” said Carlin.
“The team is disappointed as any team would be after having a season ended earlier than we would have liked. However, they understand that they should be proud of their efforts to be within a puck of the number one team in our region.”
Wasilla Head Coach Trent Schachle gave a nod to the Mariners.
“It wasn’t a 7-2 game. (Homer) played hard,” Schachle said.
“They had guys forcing the puck all the time. We just got the bounces. We kept on working harder, and got the bounces.”
A skills competition followed the first round of tournament games. Players from all six teams in the North Star Conference participated in shooting accuracy, skating speed, hardest slapshot and goalie saves competitions.
Mariner Riley Swanson was a winner from the Homer team allowing only one goal after facing 12 shooters in a shootout.
Teammate Kiril Sanarov took second place in the hardest shot competition, one mile per hour behind the winner, with his 88 miles-per-hour slap shot.
Conference awards for Mariner players were announced following the skills competition:
• Sportsmanship Award: JJ Sonnen;
• North Star All Region Honorable Mention: Clem Tillion and Dawson Roberts;
• North Star All Region Second Team: Anton Kuzmin and Markian Polushkin;
• North Star All Region First Team: Kiril Sanarov.
That brings to an end the Mariner hockey season and the end of high school hockey for the team’s seniors: Owen Delehanty, Anton Kuzmin, Ulian Kuzmin, Maggie LaRue, Misael Martushev, Markian Polushkin, Kiril Sanarov, JJ Sonnen and Clem Tillion.
Wendy Wayne and Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jeremiah Bartz contributed to this story.