The Wild are anything but wild, and Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center was another classic illustration of why.
The North American Hockey League club from Wenatchee, Wash., jumped to a two-goal lead and stifled the Brown Bears the rest of the way for a 2-1 victory in front of 634 fans.
Wenatchee moves to 24-13-4 with the victory, good for third place in the West Division. The Brown Bears fall to 22-18-2 and remain one point behind Fresno (Calif.) for the final playoff spot.
After Friday's game, the Wild had given up just 69 goals all year, by far the stingiest total in the NAHL. Janesville (Wis.) is next at 90.
"I'd like to score more than two goals, I'd like to win by more than 2-1," Wild coach John Becanic said. "We don't give up a ton of goals, though. When we score two goals, we have a good shot at winning."
Especially when the Wild are on the road and have Robert Nichols in net. Wenatchee moved to 14-5-1 on the road vs. 10-8-3 at home with the victory. Nichols, who has the top goals-against average in the league at 1.62, improved his record to 15-4-3.
Heading into Friday's contest, the Bears had played Wenatchee four times and recorded a shootout win, an overtime win, a regulation win and a loss.
Problem was, all of those games had come in Wenatchee. The Brown Bears are now 9-11-0 at home vs. 13-7-2 on the road.
Wenatchee is second in the league in attendance, averaging 3,042 fans per game. Becanic said playing in front of that many people fires up the opposition. He also said many of the parents of the players with the Alaska franchises fly in to Wenatchee to watch their sons play, giving those players from the Lower 48 a rare chance to play in front of family.
"The team we saw tonight was not the team we saw two weeks ago in our building," Becanic said, referring to the Brown Bears.
Kenai River coach Oliver David said he agreed that his team did not have the same energy on Friday as it did in Wenatchee. He said his squad is comfortable playing in the low-scoring contests in which Wenatchee excels.
He said the only way his team can compete in those contests, though, is with large amounts of energy.
"Our effort was there at times, and at times it was off," David said. "We didn't retrieve pucks the way we need to.
"It was just a blah kind of night, and that plays into their hands."
Wenatchee got its first goal with 4:02 left in the first period. Jacob Barber scored his first goal for the Wild this year in his fifth game since coming to Wenatchee in a trade from a United States Hockey League franchise.
Last season, Barber scored 24 goals for the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer before being traded to Wenatchee for the last 16 games of the season and recording 10 goals there.
"It was nice for him to finally get one," Becanic said. "He's been a bit snakebitten."
With Barber's goal, the Wild are now 22-4-1 when scoring first in the game.
While the first goal showcased Wenatchee's ability to trade for USHL talent, the second goal showed the team's ability to groom talent.
Wenatchee has a Jr. Wild program, and Brad LeLievre was called up from the Under-18 team for the game.
The 16-year-old responded by scoring the eventual game winner, giving the Wild a 2-0 lead with 9:08 left in the second period.
"We play against big-market teams in our division, and we're happy to accept that challenge," David said. "If we play with energy, we can compete against anybody in our division."
David said his squad played with more energy in the third period, and was able to win the period.
Sean Muller, on an assist from Bobby Murphy, scored his 12th goal of the season with 16:03 left in the game.
However, the rest of the period was back and forth, with neither team really getting any great chances. The Brown Bears outshot Wenatchee 7-5 in the final frame en route to being outshot 28-24 for the game.
Nichols had 23 saves, while Austin Severson had 26. Severson kept the 2-0 game within reach with 1:26 left in the second period, when a Kenai River defender slipped and yielded a breakaway to Shawn Pauly, who has the second-most goals for the Wild. Severson stuffed Pauly.
David said the best player for his team Friday was defenseman Jesse Ramsey.
"We challenged him to play with more intensity, because sometimes it looks like he doesn't play with intensity," David said. "Tonight, he was not accepting what was happening on the ice at all.
"He was vocal about it. He's come a long way as a leader."
The Bears host the Wild at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the sports center.
Wild 2, Brown Bears 1
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Barber (Pauly), 15:58. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Wenatchee, LeLievre (Saylor), 10:52. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Muller (Murphy), 3:57. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Wenatchee 13-10-5—28; Kenai River 10-7-7—24.
Goalies — Wenatchee, Nichols (24 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Severson (28 shots, 26 saves).
Power plays — Wenatchee 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 2.