By McKibben Jackinsky
The End of the Road Shootout at the Kevin Bell Arena begins today and continues through Saturday. It promises exciting hockey action and an opportunity for the community to cheer for the Homer Mariners as they take on Houston, Hutchison and Juneau.
Defensemen JJ Sonnen, Dawson Roberts and Anton Kuzmin have been practicing plays this week, spending hours on the ice sharpening their moves to keep the visiting schools away from the net.
“We’re the backbone of the team,” said Sonnen of the role the three play.
Roberts, a senior, and Sonnen and Kuzmin, both juniors, each have been playing hockey for 10 years. This won’t be the first time the three have played hockey against this weekend’s guests. Using past experience, as well as lessons learned from this season’s games against Kenai and Soldotna, Sonnen said the weekend strategy is to “make sure we stick with the system and make smart plays.”
“And be more aggressive,” said Roberts, getting nods and smiles from Kuzmin and Sonnen.
All three visiting teams — Houston, Hutchison and Juneau — were specifically chosen to help the Mariners fine tune their on-ice moves.
“They reflect quality, better teams in small schools,” said Assistant Coach Chris Brown, referring to the large populations from which each of the schools can draw players. Houston is located in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and Hutchison is in Fairbanks. Juneau, with a population base of more than 30,000, began its hockey program at about the same time as Homer. Popularity of the sport is growing in that Southeast community, with consideration being given for a second rink to accommodate a team at Thunder Mountain, the area’s other high school, according to Brown.
“All three teams offer good competition,” said Brown.
In his first year as the Mariner’s Head Coach, John Carlin has seen improvement with each game played this season. The opening game against Kenai had a 5-2 loss, but that narrowed to a slim 2-1 defeat by Soldotna.
“We’re playing collectively better,” said Carlin, who has been focusing on Homer’s defensive line in preparation for the End of the Road Shootout. “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.”
The Mariners are back on the home ice Dec. 5, 6 and 7, with games against Wasilla, Palmer and Colony, respectively. They have one more at-home game Dec. 10, a return match with Kenai, before heading to Houston’s Christmas Round Robin at Big Lake Dec. 12-14 and games in Juneau Dec. 20-21.
January is a busy hockey month. Games include rematches against Soldotna and Kenai, as well as more battles with Wasilla, Palmer and Colony.
Regions will be held in Homer Feb. 6-8.
“This is a big deal, the first time ever,” Carlin said of regions being held in Homer.
It also is a big deal for another reason.
“In regions, if you win the first game, you go on to a second game and if you win that, you go to state,” said Carlin.
Both coaches urged the public to come cheer for the Mariners at this weekend’s games.
“That’s the best part, having the community come out and see us play,” said Brown, reminding spectators to dress warmly. “The team is really excited, willing to give their best.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of the Road Shootout
Kevin Bell Arena
• 5 p.m. Houston vs. Hutchison
• 7:30 p.m. Juneau vs. Homer
• 5 p.m. Juneau vs. Houston
• 7:30 p.m. Hutchison vs. Homer
• 10 a.m. Hutchison vs. Juneau
• 12:30 p.m. Houston vs. Homer
Admission $5 for Homer games
Concessions will be open