After getting stymied in the first period, the Soldotna Stars found their groove in the second period with two goals in a span of 3:31 to secure a 2-1 victory over Juneau-Douglas in the ASAA Division II/First National Cup final at the Patty Center in Fairbanks.

Jace Applehans and Boone Theiler each found the back of the net on beautiful goals as the Stars captured their first title in their second appearance in the championship game since 2020.

Soldotna goaltender Jackson Purcell made 14 saves and kept a clean sheet for the final 39 minutes. The only goal he gave up was on a deflection off the shin of his defenseman 5:35 into the game.

Juneau goalie Mason Sooter stood tall in net as he turned aside 37 shots. He made glove saves, kick saves, stick saves – and even stopped one with his mask.

Nothing came easy versus Sooter, who stopped the first 20 shots, including all 11 in the first period, before the Stars broke through with back-to-back beauties late in the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit.

The tying goal came from Applehans, who converted a great give-and-go with player-of-the-game Silas Larsen at the 4:48 mark.

Soldotna’s go-ahead goal came courtesy of Theiler, who buried a backhand top shelf on an assist from Applehans with 1:17 left in the period. It was the only extra-man goal for the Stars on four total power plays.

Once the final buzzer sounded, the Stars (13-6-3) threw a hockey yard sale – with gloves, sticks and helmets scattered on the ice – to celebrate their First National Cup since ASAA created a small-schools tournament in 2018 after years of the Greatland Conference.

ASAA D2 First National Cup Champions
2023 Soldotna 2, Juneau-Douglas 1
2022 Houston 4, Palmer 2
2021 Homer 3, Palmer 2
2020 Homer 4, Soldotna 1
2019 Palmer 6, Homer 5
2018 Monroe Catholic 2, Houston 0

Juneau (8-9) played giant killer in the semifinals with a stunning 4-3 victory over consensus No. 1 Houston, the defending state champion who came into the frozen four with a 22-1-1 record.

The Crimson Bears came out strong in the title game after Dylan Sowa scored the first goal 5:35 into the game after throwing the puck on net and getting a lucky bounce after the puck deflected off a Soldotna defenseman. Karter Kohlhase was awarded the assist.

Sooter was special as he denied two breakaways and made all 10 saves in the third period to keep his team in the game. He was also a little lucky in the first period when Soldotna’s Dawson Lockwood rifled a shot off Sooter’s arm that then bounced off the pipe.

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