The Homer Mariners varsity hockey team suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss Saturday in what was the program’s first-ever appearance in the Division II state championship.
The Palmer Moose and Mariners were tied coming out of the first period, but Palmer turned it on in the second with three goals, making it 4-1 heading into the final frame.
The Mariners responded with two goals from junior Ethan Pitzman and his fellow classmate Isaiah Nevak came away with the game-tying goal later in the period.
Mariners Head Coach Steve Nevak said number seven, Tyler Gilliland, gave Homer the go-ahead goal – his second of the game – with just over one minute left on the clock.
“With about 25, 30 seconds left, they tied it up and that sent us to overtime,” he explained.
Nevak said the team had plenty of chances to put the game away, but a mixture of nerves and bad puck bounces made the back of Palmer’s net more elusive in the final period.
To make things worse, Palmer’s game-winning goal came off a lackluster shot from the top of the faceoff circles. The puck just made its way over senior goalie Hunter Warren’s glove-side pad.
Nevak said it’s hard to say whether the puck may have deflected past Warren or whether he was screened.
“He played lights-out the day before,” he added. “He had a pretty good game against Palmer and to have a goal like that end his high school career is absolutely heartbreaking.”
Still, just the fact that the Mariners made it to the championship game is a sign of progress. Last year, the team was one win away from going to state.
“After we go into the locker room, there’s not much you can say. But when one of your juniors said, ‘coach, I’m sorry, but next year this won’t happen,’ that’s a good thing to use going into the next season,” Nevak said. “It’s good they’re already looking forward.”
The program is losing eight seniors, but Nevak said this year’s junior class is a strong part of the program.
All three juniors who scored in the third period were voted all-conference and all-tournament. Pitzman was also voted player of the year for the Division II Railbelt Conference. Nevak himself was voted coach of the year, all promising signs of what is to come next season.