Frost on the ground and ice on the puddles may be slow to take hold on the southern Kenai Peninsula, but the Kevin Bell Ice Arena’s ice is solid and the place for hot hockey action by the Homer High School hockey team.
In his first year at the reins of the Homer High Mariner hockey team is Head Coach John Carlin, a 10-year Homer resident originally from Edina, Minn.
“I started playing youth-level hockey when I was five years old, mainly in Edina and in Ontario and Manitoba, Canada,” said Carlin.
He continued to play on Edina High School’s junior varsity and varsity teams and went on to play college hockey in the late 1980s. After moving to Alaska in 1993, he played adult men’s league hockey and then assisted the Soldotna High School hockey team for a year, followed by being head hockey coach for Soldotna High School the rest of the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
“Thanks to the efforts of previous (Homer) Coach Buck Laukitis and the many dedicated players and parents, I look forward to helping the Mariner hockey program keep its tradition alive,” said Carlin.
The Mariner team draws players from Homer High School, as well as Connections, the Kenai Peninsula School District’s home-school program, and Homer’s smaller neighbors to the east, Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo, with a mix of experience represented by the players.
“We’re still in the process of growing our team as other players are finishing up their other fall sports,” said Carlin.
Practices for the coming season began Oct. 21, and the first game is Nov. 5.
“As this has been our first week of practice, we are still assessing our areas that are strong and areas that need more work,” said Carlin.
That said, the coach already is developing goals for both on and off the ice.
“I expect our group of athletes to become a team, know sportsmanship, play hard, be accountable, be committed,” he said. “If we can grow throughout the season, strengthen our sense of team and cohesiveness, and take ownership in the season at hand, we will set ourselves up for success. And the program will grow.”
The team consists of 16 skaters, including three returning seniors: Konstontin Reutov, Hannah Baird and Tommy Bowe.
Bowe, a Connections student, is glad to be returning to high school hockey after playing Junior Aces hockey in Anchorage this fall.
“This is the best ice in the state. It’s hard ice, fast,” he said, adding that the team has “started out good, a cohesive team. We’re not the number one team in the state right now, but we could get good enough to win a trip to state.”
Four players are new to the varsity team: Garrett Butcher, Hunter Tillion, Danny Weist and Riley Swanson.
“The guys that are new to the team look good and should have a pretty good high school hockey career,” said junior Kiril Sanarov of Voznesenka.
Sophomore Kaela Jiron is the team’s student manager.
While Carlin enjoys helping students develop skills in the athletic arena, he said he enjoys even more “helping them grow their skills at being a good person with a sense of community. One vision I’d like to instill in these student athletes is that they represent their community, their school(s) and their families.”
The community can help make that vision become a reality.
“The biggest support from the community would be their presence at these fast-paced, exciting games,” said Carlin.
Support for the team also can be given through the purchase of fresh holiday wreaths being sold by the hockey players, program advertisements and raffle tickets during the season.
Homer takes on Kenai Central High School in Kenai on Nov. 5 and faces Soldotna High School in Soldotna on Nov. 12. The first home games will be the End of the Road Shoot Out Nov. 21-22.
“Homer is so fortunate to have such a quality ice rink in a beautiful setting,” said Carlin. “We need to embrace this facility, which fosters so many programs for our youth and adult athletes.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Wendy Wayne also contributed to this story.