Bundle up against the keep-the-ice-frozen temps of the Kevin Bell Arena and prepare for some “hot hockey action” this weekend as the Homer Mariners take on teams from Houston, Bartlett and SoHi in the three-day End of the Road Shootout.
“These teams represent different areas — Anchorage, the valley and the peninsula — so it’s a collective group and will be exciting to see where we stand,” said Mariner Head Coach John Carlin.
The weekend play follows the Peninsula Ice Challenge in Kenai earlier this month. In opening play, the SoHi Stars claimed a 4-3 hard-fought victory over the Mariners. Pitted against the Kenai Kardinals, Homer was determined to keep control of the action and the game went into overtime, with Homer scoring a 2-1 win. In Homer’s final game at the Challenge, the Mariners gave the Eagle River Wolves a tough time before the Wolves managed to secure a 4-2 victory.
The Mariners reversed the tables on SoHi during the Nov. 11 at-home game, coming off the ice with a 3-1 win.
“The kids are working hard and getting better and that’s a good thing,” said Carlin of progress he sees taking place.
This year’s Mariner hockey team numbers 27 athletes “if all are healthy, eligible and free of injury,” said Carlin. Nine of the team are seniors and there are about a dozen freshmen that are new to Mariner ice action. The team is comprised mostly of Homer High athletes, but also includes one student from Homer Flex High School and three from Voznesenka High School. The benefit of a multi-school team that draws from the two smaller schools is two-fold.
“It offers a field (of athletes) from a greater area, which is always nice,” said Carlin of attracting athletes from the broader base offered by the small schools. “And it’s a nice opportunity for them.”
This is Carlin’s second year as the Mariner head coach. He is assisted by Chris Brown. The team practices daily.
“We’d like to finish strong by the end of the year,” said Carlin. “We’d like to go to the state tournament if possible.”
Of this weekend’s Shootout, Carlin anticipated it would bring hundreds of visitors to the southern peninsula.
“Each team has 20-25 kids and then there’s parents and friends, so we’re talking about hundreds of people,” said Carlin. “It definitely helps hotel rooms, eateries, the bowling alley, stuff like that.”
As last season’s hockey action progressed, the Kevin Bell Arena became increasingly packed with the Mariners’ enthusiastic fan base, their loud cheers matching the intense on-ice action.
“Hockey is fast-paced. Not a slow game. There’s a lot of action and our young athletes are working hard,” said Carlin. “The rink has created some new hockey enthusiasts, too. In general hockey is a great winter sport that people gravitate toward. We’re producing some great hockey action, something exciting to watch and we’re competitive. That’s a tradition we want to continue to establish and move forward.”
The fans’ enthusiasm helps fuel that forward momentum.
“If anybody’s been an athlete or not, it’s contagious,” said Carlin of the excitement evident among the arena-filling crowd. “We love to see the support and are getting great crowds. And we’re trying to do the best we can to give hot hockey action.”
So contagious is hockey enthusiasm, in fact, that understanding the game’s rules isn’t necessarily a requirement. Carlin turned to a quote from television sportscaster Al Michaels opening the 1980 Olympic hockey broadcast of Team USA vs. Team USSR, a game that ended with a 4-3 victory for Team USA.
“For people who don’t know the difference between a blue line and a clothesline, it’s irrelevant,” said Michaels, blue lines being those that separate the rink into three sections: a neutral zone and the offensive zone of each team.
A little understanding about the game can help, however.
“Those who don’t know the game, it’s just as much fun to yell and scream for your team and support your local athletes and we appreciate that, we really do,” said Carlin. “If you can’t figure out what the blue line is, ask people around you. Hockey people are generally pretty nice folks and can give you an explanation.”
Carlin offered these tips to newcomers to the sport: “Keep track of the puck and watch the athletes skate as fast as they can. We play a clean, mean style of hockey.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.
End of the Road Shootout
Kevin Bell Arena
Thursday, 5 p.m.:
Houston vs. SoHi
Thursday, 7:30 p.m.:
Bartlett vs. Homer
Friday, 5 p.m.:
SoHi vs. Bartlett
Friday, 7:30 p.m.:
Houston vs. Homer
Saturday, 10 a.m.:
Bartlett vs. Houston
Saturday, 12:30 p.m.:
SoHi vs. Homer