Kenai Central’s Avery Martin tries to split Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale’s Dylan Sowa and Camden Kovach on Thursday at the Division II state hockey tournament at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Avery Martin tries to split Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale’s Dylan Sowa and Camden Kovach on Thursday at the Division II state hockey tournament at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

JDHS loses 4-2 to Kenai in DII state hockey tournament opener

No. 4 seed Crimson Bears lose chance for title as No. 5 Kardinals get first-ever opening game win.

Juneau goalie Mason Sooter played a remarkable game during his team’s playoff opener on Thursday, keeping opposing Kenai High School scoreless for nearly two periods even though they controlled the puck much of the time. But eventually the Kardinals’ shots began finding their mark and the Crimson Bears were knocked out of title contention in a 4-2 loss in the Division II state hockey tournament in Soldotna.

“I was telling our guys, the way Mason was playing today, if he was allowed to cross the blue line, he was scoring six goals,” Juneau head coach Matt Boline said. “He was incredible.”

Shooter saved 31 shots for Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale, while goalie Evyn Witt stopped 24 for Kenai. But the number of stops also reflected the Kardinals’ offensive superiority throughout the game, coming after Juneau twice defeated Kenai by scores of 7-3 two weeks ago.

Juneau, seeded fourth, was hoping for a return to the title game it lost last year, which included an opening-round win over Kenai. The Kardinals, seeded fifth this year, won a first-round game in a state tournament for the first time in the program’s history.

“I remember all the times we lost in state first round, the heartbreak and having to say goodbye to the seniors,” Kenai junior Avery Martin said. “But this is huge. And we lost to Juneau last year. So this is big for us.”

Kenai Central goalie Evyn Witt makes a save in front of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale’s Elliot Welch on Thursday at the Division II state hockey tournament at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna. (Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central goalie Evyn Witt makes a save in front of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale’s Elliot Welch on Thursday at the Division II state hockey tournament at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna. (Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kardinals had won six of eight coming into the game, the losses to Juneau being the exception.

Thursday’s game was scoreless until 4:35 was left in the second period, when the Crimson Bears took a 1-0 lead when Caden Johns scored on assists from Elliot Welch and Harris Monsef. That started a scoring spree during the next five minutes of play.

Kenai quickly came back and scored twice in the final 3:20 of the second period to take a 2-1 lead. On the first goal, Mese set up Braden Smith, with Martin also getting an assist. On the second, Mese set up Martin, with Howard also assisting.

Just 35 seconds into the third period, Mese forced a turnover on the Juneau end and scored for a 3-1 lead.

It was Juneau’s turn to be resilient. Just nine seconds later, Johns had his second goal of the game, assisted by Dylan Sowa, to cut it to 3-2.

“That’s Caden Johns,” Boline said. “He’s a senior captain this year. I sing his praises everywhere I go.

“We talk about players playing a 200-foot game — end to end. But if I could do the quick math, I’d tell you that he plays every square inch of the ice.”

The rest of the game was scoreless until the final minute. Juneau, continuing to struggle to get the puck out of its end of the rink, got one last chance at a solid shot against Witt with about 30 seconds remaining. But the Crimson Bears had pulled Sooter for one last desperate chance on offense and Kenai’s Sawyer Vann, in clearing the puck from his end of the rink, sent it into the Crimson Bears’ net for a game-sealing goal with 20 seconds left.

Martin and Johns were named the players of the game.

JDHS (10-9-1) and Tri-Valley High School (4-11-1) are scheduled to play in the fourth-place bracket game at 11 a.m. Friday. Kenai (12-9-1) faces top-seeded Houston (19-3-1) at 4 p.m.

• Contact Jeff Helminiak at jeff.helminiak@peninsulaclarion.com. Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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