WASILLA — The Homer High School Mariners won their second consecutive ASAA/First National Bank Division II state hockey title on Saturday at the Menard Center in Wasilla with a 3-2 overtime win over the Palmer Moose.
The 2021 DII state title game was a rematch of the 2019 DII matchup between the Mariners and Moose in which Palmer prevailed with a 6-5 overtime victory. On Saturday, Hunter Green sank the game-winning-goal with an airborne prayer of a shot, flung from nearly behind the net. The puck hung in the air long enough to bounce into the crease and give Homer the overtime win for back-to-back championships.
“I just saw maybe if I shoot it high, it’ll go in and it bounced right off his back, got lucky,” said Green. “We got ‘em. We got ‘em back. That was for Tucker Weston, Lee Lowe, Brenna [McCarron], that was for all of our seniors that we lost that year that never got to win a championship and because that was the team that we lost to.”
On Friday, Palmer beat Soldotna 6-1 and Homer beat North Pole 4-1 to set up the rematch of the 2019 title game. Homer’s was making their third title game appearance in a row, but Palmer started off hot. Xander Logan snapped a wrister into the net just 78 seconds into the game. Nathan Wheeler netted the second goal for Palmer just 36 seconds later, assisted by Bryce Armstrong and Matias Broughton.
Palmer held a two-goal lead just 1:48 into the state title rematch, but Homer goaltender Keegan Strong held the Moose scoreless for the next 46 minutes and and 14 seconds.
“We just could’ve started better obviously, and I think that we knew that we have a system in place and we have a style of game that we want to play and sticking to that will produce results. It’s not easy because it goes wrong so quickly, but they did stick to it and I think that that kind of was the message, just hey we need to go out, stick to our game and keep working and the results will come,” said Homer head coach Mike Barth.
Palmer led 2-0 after the first period of play ended and Casey Otis scored on a power play goal just over three minutes into the second period, assisted by Haylee Owen and Knutson Bergen. Trailing the Moose from the first period until there were six minutes left in the third period, Homer began a barrage of shots on Palmer goalkeeper Jackson Heard. Heard tallied 31 saves on 34 shots including 15 saves in the second period alone. Both Palmer’s Heard and Homer’s Strong were named to the All-State Tournament team. Strong saved 24 of the 26 shots sent at the Homer goalkeeper.
“He did a really good job,” said Palmer head coach Dean Wilson of Heard. “Jackson just came out, he showed up to play. That last goal was definitely not his fault. It was just a weird flutter puck that went up in the air and we didn’t get the coverage that we needed to right then but that’s the way things go, but no he had a good game. I thought there was a lot of shots that were coming top of the circles at him and he was able to control those.”
With 6:20 left in the third period, Homer’s Matfey Reutov slid through the defense and slipped the puck past Heard, tying the game at two goals apiece on an assist from Karl Wickstrom. Reutov also took home Player of the Game honors for Homer. Palmer’s Nathan Wheeler was awarded Player of the Game.
For the Mariners, Hunter Green, Casey Otis and Strong made the All-Tournament team while the Moose placed Jeremy Horacek, Carter Greco and Heard on the team.
With the game tied and 1:08 left in the third period, Palmer was called for a penalty that carried into the overtime period. Just under two-and-a-half minutes into overtime, Palmer was called for a hooking penalty that would allow Homer’s Hunter Green to score the game-winning goal on the power play just 36 seconds later.
“They went on in here with intentions to play hard, grit it out, play fast. We’ve got a fast team, and gritted out some good goals and then try to get some creativity you know. The puck wouldn’t sink for us. We got a lot of unfortunate calls that put us back on our heels and we weren’t able to recover from some of those. Unfortunately that puts your guys, your top line in a precarious situation so it was just a series of unfortunate events but these kids played hard,” said Wilson.
Homer was called for just two penalties and had only four penalty minutes as a team. Palmer was called for eight penalties for over 25 penalty minutes as a team.
After climbing back to tie the game, Reutov sent a shot at the Palmer net from in between the circles that he followed, backhandedly slapping the rebound over the net. In a flurry of traffic, Green found the puck near the corner and lofted a high floater behind Heard that sealed the championship for Homer. Homer coach Mike Barth took over as a first year coach, inheriting the defending state champs in a modified season amidst the global coronavirus pandemic. After the game, Barth said that winning the championship was a team effort.
“For me it’s a lot of pride,” said Barth. “Today it’s definitely an emotional thing for me, just because I felt like I had a lot of responsibility coming in as a first year head coach. They’re defending champions and it’s no easy task to step into those shoes and so for me personally, I felt a lot of responsibility there, but the bigger thing is just knowing that these kids wanted it as bad as they did.”