Playing at the Big Lake Lions Recreation and Community Center, the Homer High School Mariner hockey team claimed first place in last week’s three-day, four-team “Christmas Round Robin.”
“It was a good thing, a good feather in their cap going into the holidays,” Head Coach John Carlin said of the Mariners’ victory.
In the Thursday game against Houston, the Mariners claimed a 2-1 win. Friday’s game between the Mariners and Colony was a close one, with a 3-3 tie that went into overtime and ended with a “tough call,” the Mariners being called for having too may skaters on the ice. On Saturday, Homer came back with a vengeance. Playing North Pole, the Mariners walked off the ice with a comfortable 7-4 victory.
“We were all evenly matched,” said Carlin of the teams participating in the event.
He praised the Mariners for “steadily getting better. … There are more pucks in the net than we’ve had in several games in the early part of the season. The kids came together.”
Getting more pucks in the net is something Carlin has been shooting for since the season began.
“We have very few natural goal-scorers, so we have to scrap for every puck we get, rebound around the net and be hungry,” he said. “We have to contribute a little here and there to collectively get our pucks and then try to defensively keep (our opponents) down to one or two goals. That seven-goal game was nice to see they can actually put seven in the net. The team’s working hard.”
While the athletes might have been evenly matched, an imbalance exists between the different programs, with some of longer standing and some from larger communities.
“Colony has 50 kids come out. We have 15,” said Carlin. “You’re up against some of these programs that are pretty developed.”
That puts Homer into the “underdog” position coming into every game, but that isn’t all bad.
“We’re scrapping for every win we get,” said Carlin. “That’s OK. It’s a good position to be in, especially during Regions time.”
Homer’s next games will be at Juneau-Douglas High School Dec. 20-21. The Crimson Bears were in Homer for the End of the Road Shoot Out Nov. 21-23, arriving late due to weather-related travel delays. In the final game of the Shoot Out, the Mariners and Crimson Bears faced off, with Juneau winning the match 4-2.
“They do a lot of traveling. Now, we’ll do the traveling to go see them,” said Carlin of taking the Mariners to Alaska’s Capital City. “If all these programs work with each other and reciprocate and help, we’ll further develop hockey in Alaska.”
Homer is back on home ice for a game against the SoHi Stars Jan. 14, and then plays away for the rest of the month, with games in Wasilla, Palmer and Soldotna. To help with travel funds, the team sold holiday wreaths, has organized a raffle and recently helped a medical office move into new space. Team manager Brad Roberts and treasurer Tracey Tillion help spearhead the fundraising opportunities.
“We’ll do anything to make a couple of bucks and help alleviate (expenses),” said Carlin, recognizing the fundraising abilities of the team and their fans. “They should be darn proud of themselves for what they’ve done to keep this program alive.”
In February, Regions competition will be held in Homer for the first time.
“We’re banking on the fact we’ll have a giant crowd, which will help boost the team,” said Carlin of the Feb. 6-8 event. With no team standing out yet this season, he anticipates “an unusually tight conference and a very exciting Region finish.”
Having the three-day tournament at home comes with benefits for the team.
“The kids are sleeping in their own beds, playing in front of the home crowd on their own ice rink. That definitely plays to our advantage,” said Carlin. “That’s where we have a chance to make a state tournament, even though we might not be getting all the conference wins.”
A strong showing of fans also can have an impact on Homer’s future.
“It’s really beneficial to show support so that later on (visitors) can say the crowd was amazing, the support was there, the hospitality was there, the sportsmanship was there. … Let’s go back there because that was a fun event,” said Carlin.
For now, Carlin is putting other teams on notice.
“We have our program rolling,” he said. “Every week that goes by, the team is getting better. We’re on the hunt. Everybody better be prepared to play us.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.