Region III Hockey Tournament kicks off today at the Kevin Bell Arena.
“This is a very special event that only comes around every six years,” said John Carlin, Homer High’s head hockey coach. “I told the athletes, from freshmen to seniors, that they’ll never experience this at this rink again.”
In addition to Homer, teams will represent Colony, Kenai, Palmer, SoHi and Wasilla.
“It’s a really evenly matched regional play,” said Carlin. “This whole season, each team has been beating each other and it’s exciting. It’s going to be very tightly played hockey down at the rink.”
That is not always the case. Some years, there are teams that stand out head and shoulders above the rest, but this is not one of those years. That will make for some exciting action that spectators can enjoy.
“It’s a rare opportunity for this many quality teams and with this type of set-up for this season with everybody being so close,” said Carlin. “For viewers that love hockey, for the general hockey fan and for those that just want to see the sport, this is right in front of you. You’re there in 15 minutes, seeing some of the best hockey in the state at the best time of the year.”
The Mariners’ first game is against the Kenai Kardinals at 7:30 p.m. today. The last Mariner-Kardinal game was played before a crowd of noisy Homer and Kenai fans in Homer Jan. 28. After three periods it was tied, 5-5, and went into overtime, with Kenai scoring the winning sixth point.
Anticipating today’s rematch with Kenai, Thomas Bowe, a senior that plays forward, predicted a “lower scoring game. For them, hopefully.” Of the two team’s strengths, Bowe said, “We match up pretty well.”
Forward Kiril Sanarov agreed.
“It’s going to be a pretty tight match-up,” said Sanarov, a junior.
The victor of today’s game moves forward in the competition, playing Wasilla at 5 p.m. Friday.
The two top teams from Region III will advance to the state tournament.
Today’s schedule: games at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Friday’s schedule: skills competition, 10 a.m.; games at 5 and 7:30 p.m.
Saturday’s schedule: championship game at 12:30 p.m.
The size of the crowd and the volume of cheering made the level of hometown support evident to the Mariners’ Jan. 28 game against Kenai. In spite of being focused on the on-ice action, the team is aware of the noise being made and “it feels good,” said Anton Kuzmin, a junior who plays defense.
His teammate, Konstantin Reutov of Kachemak Selo, a forward and one of three seniors on the team, agreed.
“It helps us play better,” said Reutov.
In fact, the louder, the better.
“Bring cowbells,” said Kuzmin.
This will be the season’s last weekend of at-home hockey for the Mariners.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” said Dawson Roberts, sophomore who plays defense.
“We’ve bonded a lot over the season and improved,” said Bowe.
The players had praise for Coach Carlin, describing him as both “intense” and “fun.”
“He puts the group forward and he’s a good coach to play for,” said Reutov.
Carlin promised some “good, exciting hockey” in Homer this weekend.
“I hope we fill the stands up and make everybody feel loved and welcome and show some Homer hospitality so, when they talk about it, they’ll say, ‘That Homer really blew it out of the water,’ and they’ll think about rotating it back down here sooner rather than later,” he said.
Admission is $7 adults, $3 students and seniors, $25 for a tournament pass.
Schedules are available alt Homer High and on the web at homerhockey.org/schedule.htm.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.