With the game on the line, the Homer Mariners received another dose of late magic from a familiar face Friday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Mariners beat Soldotna 4-3 in overtime, and for a second consecutive week, it was Tyler Gilliland netting the game-winning goal for Homer. Last weekend at the End of the Road Shootout on home ice, Gilliland scored in overtime to send the Stars packing, and Friday night on SoHi’s home ice, he repeated the feat.
The victory capped a three-goal comeback for Homer, which found itself down 3-0 in the first period. Senior winger Ethan Pitzman single-handedly erased the deficit with a hat trick of goals for Homer, netting the tying shot with 1:23 left in regulation to force OT.
Homer head coach Steve Nevak said the victory didn’t overshadow the poor start the Mariners had.
“I’m tired of beating SoHi in overtime,” Nevak said, adding that Homer was missing a few players to illness. “The only thing we need to work on is our compete level. … At least we won, but it’s hard when you’re missing some four-year starters.”
Homer kept its undefeated season alive at 7-0 overall, while SoHi dropped to 6-4.
Nevak said the Mariners were missing a few starters and key second-line players in Phinny Weston, Matfey Reutov and Jett Allen among others Friday due to sickness. That put the spotlight on Pitzman, who scored a goal in each of the three periods to pull the Mariners out of the hole they had dug themselves.
“When things aren’t going right, you depend on your superstars to put the team on their shoulders,” Nevak said. “He’s expected to do that.”
The final result was the same score between the two teams for a second straight week. Soldotna head coach Indy Walton pointed to the costly penalties late in the game when asked about why SoHi failed to maintain a 3-0 lead.
“They weren’t anything flagrant,” Walton said. “But they blew (the whistle) on us. … I think we’re a fairly clean team.”
Walton said the player of the game for SoHi was goaltender Corbin Wirz, who made 42 saves for SoHi. Wirz needed to be on his game as the Stars were doubled up shots 46-23. Homer goalie Keegan Strong stopped 20 of 23 shots for the win.
Walton said the Stars got a lot of production out of their top three lines, but Homer’s top-end talent prevailed Friday.
“We were playing really good hockey,” he said. “But they have five players that can really play the puck, and when they bring them all together, they’re pretty deadly.”
SoHi scored three times in a span of 3:08 to take a 3-0 lead in the first period. Gavin Haakenson got the party started with a goal that came moments after the Stars killed off a penalty, then was followed by Brier Books and Dylan Dahlgren goals. Books scored on the SoHi power play, slotting in a strike from the right circle, while Dahlgren was able to chip in the puck after crashing in on a rebound.
Homer got its rally started with 3:28 to go in the first. Pitzman stole the puck from a SoHi defenseman near mid-ice and rushed off for a one-on-one battle with Wirz, slipping the puck by Wirz’s left skate.
Pitzman got the Mariners within one late in the second period just nine seconds into a Homer power play, slapping the puck home from the top of the key for a 3-2 game.
In the third period, Homer didn’t help itself with two early penalties that put the Mariners on their heels, but the penalty minutes soon shifted in favor of the Mariners as SoHi was whistled for six penalties in the last 5:35 of regulation.
It ultimately cost the Stars as Pitzman evaded a defenseman on a drive along the left boards and skated in for the game-tying score with 1:23 remaining.
In overtime, Homer continued to press as SoHi was called first for a slashing penalty, then a roughing charge with 4:57 left in the eight-minute period. That put Homer on a 5-on-3 power play, and Gilliland ended it with 4:27 left in OT amid a scramble in the crease.
Mariners 4, Stars 3, OT
Homer 1, 1, 1, 1 —4
Soldotna 3, 0, 0, 0 —3
1st period — 1. Soldotna, Haakenson (Aley, Lockwood), 5:48; 2. Soldotna, Books (Walton, Haakenson), PP, 6:51; 3. Soldotna, Dahlgren (Montague, Miller), 8:56; 4. Homer, Pitzman (unassisted), 11:32. Penalties — Soldotna 1 for 2:00; Homer 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 5. Homer, Pitzman (Nevak, Stineff), PP, 12:15. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
3rd period — 6. Homer, Pitzman (unassisted), 13:37. Penalties — Soldotna 8 for 24:00; Homer 6 for 20:00.
OT — 7. Homer, Gilliland (Ross), PP, 3:33. Penalties — Soldotna 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Soldotna 14-1-8-0—23; Homer 11-16-14-5—46.