Four teams and six games kept the Kevin Bell Arena hopping with hockey action for the End of the Road Shootout, Nov. 20-22. Homer was host to the Soldotna Stars, Bartlett Golden Bears and Houston Hawks.
The undefeated Stars went home with the tournament trophy, while Homer held second place with one loss, Houston was third and Bartlett fourth.
The Shootout began Thursday with the Stars and the Mariners at the top of their games. Soldotna scored a 9-6 victory over Houston and Homer had a 6-1 win against Bartlett. The two peninsula teams kept up their winning streak on Friday, with the Stars claiming a 2-1 victory over the Golden Bears and the Mariners battling to a 3-1 win against the Hawks.
The final day of play began with Houston overwhelming Bartlett 5-1, before the Stars scored the 3-1 win over the Mariners.
“Everyone played as a team, and collectively did well both offensively and defensively. An Anchorage win does not come to this program often so this is a solid win, and helps let Anchorage know about the progression of south peninsula hockey,” said Homer Head Coach John Carlin, referring specifically to the Mariners’ win over the Bartlett team, whom he described as “a class act.”
“Bartlett was not even close to a full team, yet they played strong until the end of each game,” said Carlin. “Even though they were clearly exhausted, they did not become frustrated and cheap. They never gave up in the face of adversity. I respect that.”
The Mariners outshot the Golden Bears 47-17. Garrett Butcher led off the Mariner scoring, assisted by Anton Kuzmin and Kiril Sanarov. Saves by Riley Swanson in the second period kept Bartlett from scoring. Butcher, assisted by Robby Swanson and JJ Sonnen, added to Homer’s score, as did Sanarov with an unassisted goal. Sanarov kept up the scoring action in the final period with another unassisted goal, giving the Mariners a 4-0 lead.
Mariner freshman Adam Brinster, in his first varsity game, upped the score in the game’s final 29 seconds and, with only 17 seconds on the clock, Sanarov slammed another one home with help from Butcher.
It was a very different, more aggressive scenario when the Mariners met the Hawks.
“We expect physical play from valley teams,” said Carlin. “We prepare for physical play with our own motto, the words ‘clean and mean.’ We talked about being the host team and that we need to not react to any stick work … and keep our heads on a swivel, be aware of the play. The flow of the game is negatively impacted as numbers of penalties assessed.”
In spite of the loss of on-ice time due to minutes players on both teams spent in the penalty box — a combined total of 17 penalties — the Mariners played well enough to win, with goaltender Markian Polushkin stopping 19 of 20 Houston shots, the Mariners outshooting their opponent 44-20 and winning the game 3-1.
Homer was first on the board thanks to Ulian Kuzmin assisted by Clem Tillion and Woape Huffman. Sanarov added to Homer’s lead during the second period, assisted by Anton Kuzmin, and struck again in the final period, assisted by Anton Kuzmin and Robby Larson.
“Everyone on the bench collectively gave a quality effort to gain this win,” said Carlin.
In Saturday’s game against the Stars, the Mariners opted for more individual play.
“This never pays off,” said Carlin.
“With a few interesting calls, our second period was not good.”
At the end of the second period, SoHi held a 3-0 lead. Finally, in the third period, Homer’s Dimitry Kuzmin, assisted by Kiril Sanarov, put Homer on the board.
One curious call by officials near the end of the game left Carlin scratching his head. As the Mariners were going after the puck, a SoHi player fell, slammed into the Homer goal and goalie and was given a penalty shot. The rink was cleared, the puck set at the middle of the rink and the Soldotna player began gaining momentum as he directed the puck toward the Homer goal.
“Justice was served when Riley Swanson denied their shooter on a tremendous save,” said Carlin of the one-on-one action.
In the very final moment of the game, as the buzzer was sounding, Homer managed to make a goal, but it was a matter of too little too late.
“We feel we scored in a heroic effort, but just ran out of time on the clock,” said Carlin.
In spite of two victories during the Shootout, Carlin said the Mariners were not playing to their potential in the game against Soldotna.
“We had many quality periods this weekend, but that was not one. We will have to have three great periods of hockey to win games and that game we had one,” he said. Looking forward to future play against the Stars this season, he said, “This championship game was not to be. We will definitely have some good games with that team this year.”
The Mariners have six workouts before heading to games against schools in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley Dec. 4-6.
“The valley is strong this year, and will be a great challenge for us,” said Carlin. “We can use the holiday break to heal up and get ready for intense conference hockey. The upperclassmen know what is ahead. It will be interesting to see how our younger athletes respond. After that weekend we will have a better grasp on our chances at a state tournament berth.”
The Mariners’ upcoming game schedule includes:
Dec. 4: At Palmer, 7 p.m.;
Dec. 5: At Colony, 7 p.m.;
Dec. 6: At Wasilla, TBA;
Dec. 9: Vs. Kenai at Homer.