The Division II state hockey tournament, including area teams Soldotna and Kenai Central, comes to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Thursday through Saturday.
Area fans regularly flock to the sports complex to watch the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League play. With the Brown Bears on a trip to the Midwest, the focus this weekend is on the high school game.
“I hope people come out and watch,” Kenai Central head coach Scott Shelden said. “There’s some really good teams and some really good players.
“I anticipate the games involving Kenai and Soldotna will be really well attended. It’s going to be good hockey, for sure.”
The tournament is coming after Phil Leck, the athletic director at Soldotna High School, submitted a successful bid with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. The Mat-Su gets three state tourneys and the sports complex gets three state tourneys.
There hasn’t been a state tournament on the peninsula since late 2011. The sports complex last hosted a state hockey tournament in 2004.
“It’s not often we get a really good, high-class high school tournament,” Soldotna head coach Anthony Zurfluh said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to get out and engage with some of these young players.
“Some of them could be wearing Brown Bears jerseys one day or playing in the NAHL, and if we’re fortunate enough, a few of them will be SoHi Stars.”
Leck also said he wrote a bid, since taken over by Kenai Central, that will put the Division II state baseball tournament at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai in two of the next six years.
“It’s been a long time coming to get a state tournament down here,” Leck said. “I wanted to start looking at the facilities we have and see if we could get a few more state tournaments.”
Leck thanked the City of Soldotna for donating $6,000 worth of ice time for the tourney. He added the Alaska School Activities Association and Mary See, of the Soldotna hockey booster club, have been great to work with in order to make the tourney a festive event.
“People are going to come down, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, go to bars and spend money in the community,” Leck said. “That’s something that’s important this time of the year.
“To bring in six teams and their fans from off the peninsula is a big deal.”
Soldotna, the defending Division II state champion, is seeded third and Kenai Central is seeded fifth in an eight-team tournament that Shelden and Zurfluh said is at least six teams deep with title contenders.
The Stars start with a 6:30 p.m. game against No. 6 North Pole. SoHi has wins over No. 1 Houston, No. 2 Palmer, No. 4 Juneau-Douglas: Yadaa.at Kale and No. 5 Kenai. SoHi has not played the Patriots.
“They’re a really good hockey team, looking at video of them and what they’ve recently done,” Zurfluh said.
As the defending champions, the coach said the whole team will have to play well, particularly the top two lines, the top four defensemen and the goalies.
“The hardest thing to do is repeat,” Zurfluh said. “We know it’s a huge mountain to climb for this group of Soldotna Stars.”
Kenai opens with a 4 p.m. game against Juneau-Douglas. The Kardinals have been hot lately, winning six of eight, including two against SoHi and another against Palmer. The only two losses in that span were 7-3 decisions to the Crimson Bears.
“Juneau beat us pretty good twice,” Shelden said. “They’re a fast team, and well coached. But we feel good. It’s hard to beat the same team three times.”
Logan Mese is a big reason Shelden feels good. Mese, who Leck called the best player in the state, had five goals to topple Soldotna by a 6-3 score Friday.
The coach said Mese, Avery Martin and Gavin Liles provide great leadership. Mese, Martin and Will Howard play on the potent first line.
Shelden said seniors Toby Petty, Jacob Wait and Ethan Tree also set the tone for the team. Tree, along with Sawyer Vann, Cole Langham and Vincent Steen, make up the core of the defense, while goalies Evyn Witt and Seanna Swanson both have state experience. Shelden also is excited about freshman Mason Vermette.
Division II state hockey tournament
at Soldotna Regional Sports Complex
Game 1 — Houston vs. Tri-Valley, 11 a.m.
Game 2 — Juneau-Douglas vs. Kenai Central, 4 p.m.
Game 3 — Soldotna vs. North Pole, 6:30 p.m.
Game 4 — Palmer vs. Kodiak, 1:30 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11 a.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 8 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 6:30 p.m.
Fourth-sixth place — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, noon
Third-fifth place — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 loser, 2:30 p.m.