The Kenai River Brown Bears wanted to give their fans a chance to see how they looked in their away sweaters.
The Friday and Saturday crowds at the Soldotna Sports Center also liked getting a chance to see the way the Bears play in their brown sweaters.
Kenai River, which had a 14-7-3 road record versus a 10-13-0 home record heading into Friday’s contest, stayed hot in their away colors by winning 5-4 in a shootout on Friday and 4-3 in a barnburner on Saturday.
“We all just really like playing in the brown jerseys,” said Matt Thompson, who had two goals for the Bears. “They look sharp.”
Brown Bears coach Oliver David said that some of the team’s merchandise is brown, but fans never get to see the brown sweaters.
As of Friday night, the plan was to go back to the home sweaters when the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters come to town on March 13 and 14. The Bears will wear the brown when they travel to Fairbanks for 7:30 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday.
“There’s a saying in hockey: ‘Look good. Feel good. Play good,’” David said.
Kenai River has now earned seven points in its last four games — all against the Avs. That comes after the Avs had beaten the Bears four times in a row.
The Bears improved to 26-20-3 and moved four points ahead of the Monsters in the race for the final playoff spot out of the West Division. Fresno lost to the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild 4-1 on Saturday.
The Avs fell to 29-16-4 and, due to Fairbanks’ Friday and Saturday victories, fell 11 points behind the Ice Dogs in the race for the division championship. Alaska also is now one point behind the second-place Wild.
The Avs host Fresno on Friday and Saturday in 7:30 p.m. games at the MTA Events Center in Palmer.
Alaska coach Cory Millen said after Friday’s game he is not ready to concede the division to the Ice Dogs. He said the Ice Dogs have played two more games than the Avs, and the two teams have three head-to-head matchups left.
But he did say his team must start playing better in a hurry.
“I don’t know if this team wants to play in the playoffs or not,” Millen said.
On Friday, the Avs twice came back from two-goal deficits to force the shootout, but Sean Muller and Chris Blessing notched shootout goals, and goalie Austin Severson stopped four of five Alaska shooters, as Kenai River improved its record in shootouts to 7-1.
Severson is now 6-1 in shootouts. Severson (and the departed Paul Bourbeau, for one game) have held opponents to nine shootout goals in 44 chances, a .205 rate that is first in the league.
Kenai River has scored on 18 of its 43 shootout attempts this year, a .419 clip that is fourth in the league.
Every Thursday at practice, all the Kenai River skaters crowd at center ice and take turns going one-on-one against the goalies. The last player to score wears a pink helmet for the next week of practice.
“I know from going against Severson each week that he is extremely tough to score against,” said captain Brett Lubanski, who had three assists.
The Bears took a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals from Chris Blessing and Matt Thompson.
Thompson’s was a five-on-three tally as the Bears went 2-for-5 with the man advantage. Kenai River now has four power-play goals in its last two games after a six-game scoreless streak.
Lubanski said the power play has been changed up to allow him on the ice with Thompson and Sean Muller.
“I’ve been playing well with those guys,” Lubanski said. “Thompson is one of the best players in front of the net in the league.”
The Avs quickly evened the score in the second period. Kevin Novakovich collected a shot that had bounced off the pipe and scored on a wraparound. Just 46 seconds later, Cody Hansen scored on a long shot that Brown Bears coach Oliver David called a “knuckle puck.”
David said the puck swerved so much in the air that Severson thought the shot was going to his left, but the puck whistled past him on his right with 11:56 left to play in the second.
Kenai River grabbed the momentum back a little over two minutes later. Jacob Davidson split the defense with a pass to Thompson at the blue line.
Thompson barely collected the puck in time to beat Avs goalie Bodhi Engum on a breakaway. David said it was a great play from Thompson since Thompson goes offside more than any other player on the team, and since Thompson often has trouble collecting the puck in stride.
When Gage Christianson was ejected and received a five-minute major for kneeing with 7:00 left in the second, the Bears took advantage when Alex Frere scored 46 seconds into the power play for a 4-2 lead.
Millen said the Avs lost because they put themselves in bad spots, namely the five-on-three and five-minute-major situations.
“That was absolutely the difference,” he said.
The Avs fought back in the third period, with Novakovich once again starting the charge when he scored with 11:17 to play.
With 5:49 left, Evan Janssen picked up a turnover in the Bears zone and passed to an open Tanner Fahlstedt, who scored.
“It was a good effort by the guys to get those two goals back,” Novakovich said.
David said the one dark area of the victory was giving up a two-goal lead twice, including once on a late turnover.
“That was a brain fart,” he said. “It was exactly the opposite of what we were trying to do at that point. The turnover was made going east-west, and it was late in the game so we were supposed to be going north and south.”
On Saturday, the Avs once again came back from a two-goal deficit in the third period, only to give up the winning goal with 1:02 to play on the power play.
Alaska scored the only goal in the first period — a tally from Wehebe Darge. The first also saw three fights.
Lubanski and Muller scored in the second period for the Bears, and then Kenai River went up 3-1 with 14:51 to play in the third period on a goal from Zac Lazzaro.
Alaska came back to tie the game on a goal by Mitch Kontny and a power-play goal by Evan Janssen with 4:22 to play.
Alaska had 61 penalty minutes on 15 infractions, versus 21 on six for Kenai River, and it caught up to the Avs in the end.
Alaska held Kenai River scoreless on its first nine power plays, but Ryan Walker scored unassisted with 1:01 left on the power play for the winning goal. There also was an extra attacker on the ice.
Brown Bears 5, Avalanche 4, SO
First period — 1. Kenai River, Blessing (Lubanski, Hemsky), 9:20; 2. Kenai River, Thompson (Ramsey, Lubanski), pp, 16:35. Penalties — Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Alaska, Novakovich (Darge, Bisbing), 7:18; 4. Alaska, Hansen (Hesse, Bergh), 8:04; 5. Kenai River, Thompson (Davidson), 10:10; 6. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Walker), pp, 13:46. Penalties — Alaska 2 for 10:00; Kenai River 2 for 7:00.
Third period — 5. Alaska, Novakovich (Kontny), 8:43; 6. Alaska, Fahlstedt (Janssen), 14:11. Penalties — Alaska 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Alaska 1 (Fahlstedt NG, Darge G, Novakovich NG, Hesse NG, Wright NG); Kenai River 2 (Muller G, Blessing G, Arkimo NG, Lubanski NG).
Shots on goal — Alaska 5-10-6-2—23; Kenai River 14-13-6-0-0—33.
Goalies — Alaska, Engum (33 shots, 29 saves); Kenai River, Severson (23 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Alaska 0 for 2; Kenai River 2 for 5.
Brown Bears 4, Avalanche 3
First period — 1. Alaska, Darge (Smith-Mass, Kessler), 10:04. Penalties — Alaska 3 for 15:00; Kenai River 3 for 15:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Lubanski (Ramsey), 5:00; 3. Kenai River, Muller (Blessing, Thompson), 19:59. Penalties — Alaska 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Muller), 5:09; 5. Alaska, Kontny (Lutsch, Christianson), 9:33; 6. Alaska, Janssen (Christianson, Fahlstedt), pp, 15:38; 7. Kenai River, Walker (un.), ea, pp, 18:58. Penalties — Alaska 7 for 36:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Alaska 13-8-11—32; Kenai River 6-17-11—34.
Goalies — Alaska, Kulmanovsky (34 shots, 30 saves); Kenai River, Severson (32 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Alaska 1 for 3, Kenai River 1 for 10.