The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a six-game losing streak by topping the host Fresno (Calif.) Monsters 3-1 on Tuesday in North American Hockey League action.
The Bears made up valuable ground in the race for the NAHL playoffs.
The top four in the West Division make the playoffs. Kenai River is 19-15-2, four points behind Fresno, which is 18-14-8. Fresno also has played 40 games to Kenai River’s 36.
“It is exactly what we needed,” Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said. “There is no other way to say that.
“We had an excellent, all-around team effort.”
The Brown Bears were outshot 29-18, but Gabe Grunwald was up to the task in making 28 saves in his first game with the Brown Bears.
Grunwald had been 0-4 with the NAHL’s Michigan Warriors before joining the Bears recently in a trade.
“Grunwald was just about perfect,” David said. “He was not flashy. He’s about 6-2. He’s a big kid who understands angles.”
After Fresno grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power-play tally in the first period, Kenai River’s hottest line tied the game with 13:35 left in the second period.
Chris Nuth scored on an assist from Zac Lazzaro and Alex Frere. That line now has four goals in the last four games.
David said the crucial factor on Tuesday was that the line had help. Just a little over three minutes later, Bobby Murphy put the Bears up 2-1 on assists from Sean Muller and Matt Thompson.
After the game, David told the team that Muller had been named an assistant captain. That completes the leadership structure, with Brett Lubanski as captain and Dominic Granato as the other AC.
Kenai River’s big test came with 11:54 left, when Jacob Davidson was whistled for a double minor.
“We killed a four-minute double minor penalty,” David said. “We killed it exceptionally well. They had very little sustained pressure.”
Raymond Stenehjem scored an empty-netter with 36 seconds left to ice the victory.
David was happy with the way his squad responded to a frustrating overtime loss on Monday in Fresno.
“I’m proud of everybody,” he said. “I could give you a whole list of things each guy did — two or three effort plays and two or three skill plays. Each player tonight wanted it.”
The Brown Bears, now 10-5-2 on the road vs. 9-10-0 at home, travel to Wenatchee, Wash., for 6:05 p.m. AST games against the Wild on Friday and Saturday.
The Wild are second in the league in attendance, averaging 3,014 fans a game, and they have used that cash to add firepower for late in the season.
“They went and made a considerable amount of moves,” David said. “They added some really high-end players. They flexed their muscles financially.
“They used all their resources to really beef up their lineup, and that’s going to make them one of the most threatening teams in the league.”
Brown Bears 3, Monsters 1
First period — 1. Fresno, Bradley (Durfee), pp, 11:21. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fresno 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Nuth (Lazzaro, Frere), 6:25; 3. Kenai River, Murphy (Muller, Thompson), 9:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Stenehjem (un.), en, 19:24. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 4:00; Fresno 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-8-4—18; Fresno 9-14-6—29.
Goalies — Kenai River, Grunwald (29 shots, 28 saves); Fresno, Sholl (17 shots, 15 saves).
Power plays -— Kenai River 0 for 3; Fresno 1 for 6.