A night after recording his first shutout, Austin Severson lost a lead and never got it back.
The Kenai River Brown Bears rookie goaltender blanked the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage 4-0 before 810 fans Friday at the Soldotna Sports Center. A night later, he saw a two-goal, third-period lead evaporate in a 4-2 loss in front of 815.
The split makes the Bears 15-6-1 overall with 31 points. They hold a one-point lead over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (12-5-6) for first place in the North American Hockey League West Division. Dawson Creek sits in last at 6-14-1, good for 13 points.
“It’s good to get that first one, but I wish I would have had one before,” Severson said of his shutout Friday. “It’s a great feeling. That was a really good defensive effort by the team. It’s not all me, it’s the team, too.”
The feeling was different Saturday.
Severson committed two infractions to open the third and allowed three goals in a 12-minute stretch, allowing the Rage to erase a 2-0 deficit.
The loss dropped the 5-foot-9 athlete to 9-2-1 this season.
“He didn’t play well at all,” Bears coach Oliver David said of Severson’s performance Saturday. “He was off his game.”
Friday, Severson and the Bears were on their game.
Zac Lazzaro had two goals and Alex Frere and Keil Zornow also scored as Kenai River broke through in the second period after a scoreless first in which they outshot the Rage 12-2.
Lazzaro, a first-year player, took a pass in front of the goal and one-timed the puck past Dawson Creek goaltender Edward Dyson with 18:30 to play. Kellen Wasell and Chris Nuth earned assists on the play.
Zornow then gave the Bears a 2-0 lead when he took a cross from Dominic Granato and clanked a left-handed shot off the crossbar with 3:09 to play in the period.
In the third, the Bears took advantage of a four-minute power play after a Dawson Creek player was called for checking from behind.
With 30 seconds left on the advantage, Austin Sture sent the puck into the zone, where Frere scooped it up and shoveled it in for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
A minute later, after Granato was sent to the box for an infraction, Lazzaro made it 4-0 with a short-handed goal on a breakaway.
That was more than enough for Severson.
“He has battled beyond belief,” Kenai River coach Oliver David said of the 5-foot-9 netminder. “When he’s having an off night, maybe energywise or not tracking the puck well, he is a competitor and he gets after it.”
The Bears played without returning players Sean Muller, Bobby Murphy, Matt Thompson and Ryan Walker, all of whom served a suspension stemming from a fight against the Ice Dogs last week. Soldotna product Brandon Fisher missed the game due to illness.
That opened the door for rookies and role players.
Lazzaro, whose parents were in attendance after flying in from the East Coast, led the charge.
“It was good to see guys step up when one of our top lines was out,” Lazzaro said. “They key is, these guys keep producing when they step up. It’s hard to get in a flow, but when you bury your chances when you’re in, it makes the team dangerous.”
Saturday, the Bears took a 2-0 lead through two periods on goals from Nick O’Donnell and Nuth.
But the Rage, which managed 12 shots in the opening 40 minutes, finally cracked Severson.
Bob Turnbull cut the lead to 2-1 with about 15 minutes to play before Jason Wurk tied it five minutes later with a score on the power play.
Dawson Creek then took the lead for good on a Josh Hartley goal with less than five to play. The Bears, who outshot the Rage 38-24, allowed a goal with an empty net in the dying seconds.
David said it was a crucial loss given the competitiveness of the NAHL West. Kenai River, Fairbanks and the third-place Alaska Avalanche of Palmer are separated by two points.
“The unfortunate thing is, given how competitive the division is, one game — Game No. 22 — we lose, and suddenly we’re fighting to stay on top,” David said. “It’s a pivotal game, it’s a huge game.”
Brown Bears 4, Rage 0
First period — No scoring. Penalties — Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00; Kenai River none.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Wasell, Nuth), 1:30; 2. Kenai River, Zornow (Granato), 16:51. Penalties — Dawson Creek 1 for 5:00; Kenai River 4 for 11:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Frere (Sture, Stenehjem), pp, 6:09; 4. Kenai River, Lazzaro (unassisted), 7:30. Penalties — Dawson Creek 4 for 10:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Penalties — Dawson Creek 8 for 29:00; Kenai River 8 for 19:00.
Shots on goal — Dawson Creek (2-8-13—23); Kenai River (12-13-14—39).
Goalies — Dawson Creek, Dyson (39 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Severson (23 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Dawson Creek 0 for 6; Kenai River 1 for 6.
Rage 4, Brown Bears 2
First period — 1. Kenai River, O’Donnell (Granato), 14:26. Penalties — Dawson Creek 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Nuth (Lazzaro, Ramsey), pp, 18:25. Penalties — Dawson Creek 5 for 18:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Dawson Creek, Turnbull (Amdundson), 4:47; 4. Dawson Creek, Wark (Smith, Matthews), pp, 9:15; 5. Dawson Creek, Hartley (McCallum), 16:53; 6. Dawson Creek, Sarestsky (McCallum), en, 19:53. Penalties — Dawson Creek 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Penalties — Dawson Creek 7 for 22:00; Kenai River 6 for 12:00.
Shots on goal — Dawson Creek (6-6-12—24); Kenai River (17-11-10—38).
Goalies — Dawson Creek, Surgenor (38 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Severson (23 shots, 20 saves).
Power plays — Dawson Creek 1 for 5; Kenai River 1 for 5.