The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the host Fresno (Calif.) Monsters 5-4 on Sunday in overtime to move into a tie for first place in the North American Hockey League West Division.
The Brown Bears have never been in first place this late in the season in franchise history.
Kenai River is 11-4-1, good for 23 points and a tie with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The Monsters earned a point to move into sole possession of third place at 8-5-4.
Seven of Kenai River’s last eight games have went into extra time, with the Brown Bears winning six of those decisions. The Brown Bears have come out on top in seven of their eight extra-time games this season.
Kenai River also remains undefeated on its current nine-game stretch away from the Soldotna Sports Center. The Brown Bears finish the trip with games Friday and Saturday in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and then on Nov. 11 and 12 with games in Fairbanks.
Sunday’s game was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. ADT, but Brown Bears coach Oliver David was told after Saturday’s game that Sunday’s game would start at 2 p.m. ADT.
Kenai River did not get off to a good start.
“We played bad — very, very bad,” David said.
Mikhail Bushinski put Fresno up 1-0 in the first period, then Carl Witty and Riley Borer scored to give the Monsters a 3-0 lead 13 minutes, 23 seconds, into the second period.
“By our count, we had 30 turnovers in the game to their 11,” David said. “We literally did not make a tape-to-tape pass for most of the first period.”
After the Monsters’ third goal, David pulled Paul Bourbeau in favor of Austin Severson. Bourbeau had 21 saves on 24 shots, while Severson would go on to make 10 saves on 11 shots.
David said Bourbeau was not playing poorly. In fact, the coach said the Bears should have been down by more than one goal after the first period.
“Right about that time — I don’t know if it was because of the goalie change — they decided they’d had enough of it and they started skating,” David said of his team.
The coach continues to say that the team’s strength is that it simply hates losing. David said that the team was having troubles in five-on-five play, so it turned to other avenues.
Keil Zornow, on assists from Brandon Fisher and Bobby Murphy, cut the lead to 3-1 at the end of two periods.
The Bears then used a power-play goal from Matt Thompson, assisted by Vincent Stefan and Raymond Stenehjem, to cut the lead to 3-2 with 14:38 left.
A faceoff play by the Brown Bears then tied the game at 3 with 9:20 left. Stefan won the faceoff to Muller, who assisted Stenehjem.
“That was our best goal,” David said. “Stenehjem just ripped it.”
Patrick Gregory gave the Monsters the lead back with 4:43 left. Shortly after, Zornow took two penalties that would keep the Monsters on the power play until 20 seconds were left in the game.
It didn’t matter as Muller came through with a short-handed goal, assisted by Jesse Ramsey and Alex Frere.
“We scored short-handed, on a faceoff play and on a power play, which is great because nothing else was working,” David said.
Just 48 seconds into overtime, Muller beat Monsters goalie Macauley Haight five-hole for the victory. Stenehjem and Murphy assisted.
“Tonight was a range of emotions,” David said. “There’s so many ways of looking at what just happened — the stats were bad, the heart was huge, competitiveness was off the charts, the will to win and turn things around was off the charts, the systematic team aspect of it all was thrown to the wayside.
“We started making plays and being creative. It was nice.”
Brown Bears 5, Monsters 4, OT
Kenai River 0 1 3 1 —5
Fresno 1 2 1 0 —4
First period — 1. Fresno, Bushinski (Johnson), 19:46. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fresno 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 2. Fresno, Witty (Haskell, Borer), ea, 8:04; 3. Fresno, Borer (Paulseth, Haskell), 13:23; 4. Kenai River, Zornow (Fisher, Murphy), 15:59. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 13:00; Fresno 4 for 13:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Thompson (Stefan, Stenehjem), pp, 5:22; 6. Kenai River, Stenehjem (Stefan, Muller), 10:40; 7. Fresno, Gregory (Blomgren), 15:17; 8. Kenai River, Muller (Ramsey, Frere), sh, 18:47. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fresno 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 9. Kenai River, Muller (Stenehjem, Murphy), 0:48. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 3-13-11-1—28; Fresno 13-12-9-1—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, Bourbeau (24 shots, 21 saves), Severson (11 shots, 10 saves); Fresno, Haight (28 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7; Fresno 0 for 7.