Following on the heels of a disappointing 3-2 loss to the SoHi Stars played before hometown fans Jan. 20, the Homer Mariner Co-Op hockey team powered onto the Soldotna Sports Center ice two days later and claimed a 7-1 victory over the Kenai Kardinals. Senior forward Kiril Sanarov made four of the seven goals.
“Kenai was a fun game to watch this team open up and then regain momentum and sustain,” said Mariner Head Coach John Carlin of the co-op team with athletes from Homer High, Homer Flex, Kachemak–Selo, and Voznesenka schools. “All players on the bench contributed — a real good team win. Sanarov was on fire, other members chipped in and goaltending with Riley Swanson was spot on.
The Mariner defense contributed to the team’s offensive effort, shutting down “Kenai’s number one line, an objective of the night,” said Carlin. “Last season with Kenai, we wanted to tilt the ice in our favor. We feel we achieved that goal this year and helped solidify a better position for upcoming playoffs.”
Mariner forward Clem Tillion said in the SoHi game, the Stars’ early lead put the Mariners “in the wrong stage of mind and we just couldn’t get the momentum back up.” In the Kenai game, however, “everyone just played their roles and everything fit together. We worked as a team and just did good.”
Tillion’s teammate, defenseman JJ Sonnen, agreed.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do: go up there and get a convincing win. That was our goal. We knew just what we wanted to go into Regions,” said Sonnen, referring to Regions competition to be played at the Brett Ice Arena in Wasilla Feb. 5-7. The Kenai win closes out the Mariners’ conference play with three wins, six losses and one tie.
Tim Blakely started off the Mariners scoring early in the game with assists from Garrett Butcher and Dimitry Kuzmin. Then, with only four minutes remaining in the first period, Sanarov took advantage of an assist from Anton Kuzmin to score his first goal of the game.
In the second period, the action evened out a bit. Kenai made it onto the board with a goal by Tristan Bulot, assisted by Jakeb O’Brien and Cody Arbelovsky.
In the final period of the game, Tillion made a goal assisted by Sanarov and Woape Huffman, followed by goals by Sanarov with assists from Tillion and Kuzmin, Dimitri Kuzmin with an assist by Robby Larson, Sanarov assisted by Kuzmin, and a final goal by Sanarov assisted by Charlie Menke.
Goalie Riley Swanson stopped 21 of 22 shots on goal, and the Mariners fired 45 shots on the Kenai goaltenders during the game, compared to Kenai’s 22.
“It was a good game,” said Kuzmin. “In the Tuesday game (against SoHi), we started off slow. Thursday, we showed up in the beginning, meaning we came out wanting it.”
“Awesome” was Mariner junior defenseman Dawson Roberts’ one-word description of the game against Kenai. Roberts was introduced to hockey by his grandfather, a French Canadian, when he was three years old, and began playing hockey through the Homer Hockey Association when he was four years old.
“We definitely needed that win, for sure,” said Roberts, comparing the Kenai win to the Soldotna defeat. “Our team just came back all hyped up in the beginning. The lines were clicking really well and freshmen were doing well.”
As a junior with plans to play on the Mariner team again next year, Roberts is aware of the team’s eight seniors who will depart at the end of this season and the importance of this season’s incoming players.
“It’s awesome how many turned out,” he said. “Some years, certain grades have a lot of kids. My freshman year only had two or three hockey players. This freshman group had eight or nine, so it’s awesome for the team. The program has a good future ahead of it.”
After a few days off, the Mariners were back on the ice this week in preparation for Regions competition.
“It’s definitely good to get a break and rest all the bumps and bruises,” said Tillion of valuable time away from the physically demanding sport.
Carlin said this week the focus is on “nothing but rest, healing and strengthening our game. … State would be the next level we aspire to be at. A State appearance and consistency of returning is a goal of this program.”
Looking forward to Regions, Dawson said, “We’re going to give it our all, that’s for sure.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com. Wendy Wayne contributed to this story.