The Mariner hockey team skated to an easy victory over the Tri-Valley Vikings in non-conference action Thursday night at the Kevin Bell Arena.
Homer won its last home game of the season 12-2 over the Vikings, who are in the Aurora Conference. The Mariners are 8-1-1 in Railbelt Conference standings, and Thursday’s win took them to 18-2-1 overall this season.
The Mariners came out strong, scoring five goals in the first period alone, to the Vikings’ one. Phinny Weston was the first to find the back of the net with a goal about two and a half minutes into the game, with an assist from Tyler Gilliland. From there, goals were scored by Alden Ross with an assist from Casey Otis and Karl Wickstrom, Ethan Pitzman with an assist from younger brother Owen Pitzman and Sam Banks, Weston again with an assist from Bergen Knutson, and from Gilliland with an assist from Weston and Jett Allen.
Tri-Valley snuck its first period goal in with less than 10 seconds to go. Corey Stickle made the goal, assisted by Hayden Lusby.
The Mariners controlled the second period with goals from Gilliland, Kazden Stineff and Otis. The Pitzman brothers also reversed course, with Owen scoring a goal assisted by older brother Ethan and, again, Banks. The third period saw goals from Austin Shafford, assisted by Ethan Pitzman and Isaiah Nevak, Nevak assisted by Shafford and Allen, and Gilliland assisted by Charley Tapan.
Stickle again sunk a goal for Tri-Valley in the third period, with an assist from Lusby again, as well as Denali Planty.
Homer goaltender Rhodes Turner stopped five of the seven shots on goal taken by the Vikings, while Tri-Valley goaltender Danny Renshaw was able to block 66 of Homer’s whopping 78 shots on goal.
Thursday’s was the last home game of the season, and therefore the last game on home ice for the team’s seniors: Gilliland, Nevak, Ross, Shafford and Ethan Pitzman.
Head coach Steve Nevak, who has been coaching some of the players since they were children, is stepping back from the position after this season.
“It’s really hard,” Nevak said of the last home game. “You know, four of them had offers to go off and play junior hockey, and they said, ‘we want to play for you, coach.’”
Nevak spoke of how the team has progressed as a group this season. Losing a large handful of seniors to graduation last year has meant training up younger players and seeing that they get ice time.
“You rely on your upperclassmen, but you want to continue to build a program and build (the) kids’ confidence,” he said. “Because you gotta remember, each one of these kids are individuals. They’re humans, and if they succeed on the ice, they’re gonna succeed in life. And so you want to give them opportunities to succeed and opportunities to fail. You’ve got to give them opportunities to fail they can learn from their failures. And every one of these freshmen and these sophomores that are pretty new, you know, we’ve given them that.”
The team has just a few practices left before heading up to Fairbanks for the ASAA Division II Hockey Championships being held Feb. 6-8. Nevak said that’ll be time to focus on what he’s been teaching all these years.
“Work below the goal line, work from the goal line out,” he said. “Play hard.”
“I don’t want this to end without a championship,” Nevak continued. “And neither do the seniors.”