The Mariners last at-home hockey game of the season was a bitter battle against the SoHi Stars Tuesday night.
The Soldotna varsity team was the first onto the board, scoring two points in the first period, followed by one more in the second period. Even a penalty shot attempt by Mariner forward Garrett Butcher with less than two minutes left in the second period and the hometown fans cheering loudly wasn’t enough to get the puck past the Stars’ goaltender.
The action became more intense in the final period of the game, with the Mariners putting up a strong wall of defense. Homer found its break half way through the period, when Dimitry Kuzmin scored off a pass from senior Anton Kuzmin.
Then, with four minutes left in the period, freshman Tim Blakely scored his first varsity goal off an assist from Robby Larson.
The remaining minutes of the game were an even battle, with neither team scoring before the final buzzer sounded and the Stars returned to Soldotna with a 3-2 victory.
In addition to Tuesday being the season’s last game at the Kevin Bell Arena, it also was the final game before the home crowd for the team’s seniors: Owen Delehanty, Anton Kuzmin, Ulian Kuzmin, Maggie LaRue, Misael Martushev, Markian Polushkin, Kiril Sanarov, JJ Sonnen and Clem Tillion. Prior to the game, the seniors, along with their parents, were introduced one by one to the crowd.
“They are a group of athletes that have developed their skills on the ice and have become quality hockey players. They will contribute to any team they skate with in the future. It has been a privilege to coach theses student athletes,” said Head Coach John Carlin. “They understand systems and they carry with them a good attitude and philosophy. These athletes have integrity and character, and have impressed the coaches by carrying themselves with a touch of class.”
Carlin, in his second year as head coach, praised the seniors not only for their ability to play the game of hockey, “but also in the leadership category.”
With 27 on the Mariners Co-Op team roster — players represent Homer High, Homer Flex, Kachemak Selo and Voznesenka schools — a loss of nine athletes for the next hockey season will undoubtedly leave a hole, but this year’s large incoming class of 11 freshmen will help smooth the loss.
“We have confidence in them as they have progressed nicely this season and our core returners are both solid players and people,” said Carlin.
Tuesday’s game against SoHi was the fifth game the Mariners have played in less than a week, beginning with their only junior varsity game of the season against the Palmer JVs Thursday. It was a Mariner victory of 2-1 with Douglas Dean scoring the first goal.
“I got an awesome pass from Jack (Heimbold) on a two on one, took a breath and aimed high,” said Dean.
The second goal was made by Charlie Menke on an assist from Woape Huffman. Goalie Riley Swanson stopped 19 of 20 shots on goal. Filling out the Homer JV roster were Spencer Warren, Marley McGuire, Troy Anderson, Adam Brinster and Ben Kettle.
In the varsity game that followed, Palmer scored a clean 3-0 win over Homer, picking up a first period goal to grab an early lead. Homer’s scoring chances never quite clicked.
The following day, Homer played a strong game against the Colony Knights, all the way to a 6-5 victory. Kiril Sanarov scored a hat trick for the Mariners, with Robby Larson, Garret Butcher, and Clem Tillion also scoring.
Larson started things off right for the Mariners, scoring a goal off an assist from Butcher 15 seconds into the game. That goal really fired up the Mariners, who suddenly realized that they were capable of scoring against Colony. Two minutes later, Kiril Sanarov scored his first goal of the game.
“My wrap-around barely crossed the goal line, good work by the refs,” said Sanarov.
Less than five minutes into the game, Butcher scored off assists from Larson and Dimitry Kuzmin, giving Homer a 3-0 lead. Then, late in the first period, Colony scored a goal, letting the Mariners know they were in for a dogfight.
In the second period, Colony dominated play. Fortunately, goaltender Markian Polushkin was solid and made 14 saves during the period, giving up only a single goal for a 3-2 Homer lead after two periods.
In the third and final period, Homer came out on fire and scored three goals to take a 6-2 lead. Sanarov scored an unassisted goal on a great effort when he got checked to the ice while carrying the puck into the zone, jumped up to recover the puck, and still had time to slip the puck over the goaltender’s shoulder.
“I fell, but got right back up and went after the puck just like coach (John Carlin) tells us to do,” said Sanarov.
One minute later, Clem Tillion had control of the puck over the blue line and passed to Sanarov, who rocketed a slap shot off the cross bar and into the net, completing his hat trick. Sanarov returned the favor and passed to Tillion, who found the back of the net for the game-winning goal.
Colony wasn’t done yet, however. They started pressuring the Mariners, picking up one goal, then two, and then a third to bring the score to 6-5, but Polushkin and the rest of the Mariners held them off for a big win.
“We needed this win, we’ve been on a losing streak,” said Sanarov. “Markian was key to the game. He blocked quite a few shots and saved the game for us.”
Saturday’s game against Wasilla was a battle of special teams and Homer came out on the short end, 3-0.
Back on the road today, the Mariners play the Kenai Kardinals at Soldotna at 6 p.m. Next is Regions at the Brett Ice Arena in Wasilla, Feb. 5-7.
“We have had ups and downs this season. With the help of the foundation previously laid, we feel the program is progressing and has a bright future, a future dependent upon the need to keep the rink open, as we are challenging the top teams across the state,” said Carlin, referring to the Homer Hockey Association’s current fundraising efforts to keep the rink operating. “We are making big gains in our ability to play top teams at a high level.”
Some of those gains the team has made are due to contributions of the out-going seniors.
“We feel this group of seniors have had an important part in taking this program to the next level,” said Carlin. “They are the product of a rink that needs to be kept ‘afloat’ to continue to develop the complete level to challenge all top programs in the future. I think this program has represented well and has gained further respect and will continue to do so.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wendy Wayne also contributed to this story.