The Kenai River Brown Bears opened their regular season on the road in the North American Hockey League with a 2-1 loss against the Topeka Roadrunners (Kan).
The Bears scored with 1 minute, 23 seconds left in the opening period with a Zac Lazzaro goal, assisted by Vincent Stefan. Lazzaro ended the night with eight shots on goal, while teammates Jake Bushey had five shots and Anthony Stempin had four.
Kenai River head coach Oliver David said Kenai’s first goal, which put them up 1-0, had the team excited.
“It was a great play, Stefan got his shot to the net, and Lazzaro is one of the smallest guys on our team and got to the front of the net,” David said. “Lazzaro saw it the whole way and he batted it down in the air and scored.”
David said Lazzaro was named team captain last week.
In the second period, Topeka managed to tie the game up with a goal from Tyler Andrew only 2:43 into the period, and Sean Gaffney had an assist from Kyle Sharkey less than four minutes later to break the tie and score the game winner for Topeka.
“They scored their first goal on a short handed effort, and one of our players bobbled the puck and their guy stole it and they went and scored,” David said. “I think we got overly excited, but we’re playing one of the most storied teams in the history of the league. They’re a high-budget team, with 15 returning players.
“It’s just a good overall showing, and in terms of the goal, the guys got really excited. There’s so many unknowns, we just don’t know what we have and who we are.”
Kenai dominated the game on paper, recording 33 shots on goal, while Topeka had 20. In the second period alone, Kenai had 22 shots on goal.
“It was a very exciting game, and I think the results and performance is something to be proud of,” David said. “We never gave up, and I think it was a pretty even game.”
17-year-old Sean Healy held his own as Kenai River’s goalie, saving 18 of 20 shots. Topeka’s goalie, Spencer Viele, saved 32 of 33 shots.
Kenai also racked up a total of 30 penalty minutes, compared to 16 for Topeka.
“I don’t feel that we were unsuccessful tonight,” David said. “We are a hockey team that wants to play, and managing the puck, protecting the front of the net, clearing pucks out of the defensive zone, those are things you have to do well. It’s a lot of teaching, and so far our guys are receptive.”
With the loss, the Brown Bears will travel to Pennsylvania on Thursday to play a team they are familiar with, the Johnstown Tomahawks, which were formerly based out of Palmer, Alaska, and known as the Alaska Avalanche.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about losing a hockey game,” David remarked. “If we play like we did tonight, we can win a lot of games this year.”
Roadrunners 2, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Topeka 0 2 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Stefan), 18:37. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Topeka 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Topeka, Andrew (unassisted), 2:43; 3. Topeka, Gaffney (Sharkey), 6:16. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 12:00; Topeka 5 for 10:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Topeka 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-22-4—33; Topeka 5-7-8—20.
Goalies — Kenai River, Healy (20 shots, 18 saves); Topeka, Viele (33 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 6; Topeka 0 for 8.