Behind a stellar series from goalie Gustav Johansson, the Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the host Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League action.
Johansson, who is from Sweden, had 34 saves in a 5-1 victory on Friday as the Bears won their first game of the season. Saturday, Johansson had 41 saves in a 2-0 victory.
"In my book, that warrants player of the week. He definitely will be nominated," Kenai River coach Oliver David said. "I don't see too many goalies, or players, having a better weekend than that."
The Bears are now 2-2-2 overall, while Springfield dropped to 1-4-1. The Bears will now do some tourism related to Abraham Lincoln, who is from Springfield. Kenai River then travels to Janesville (Wis.), the hometown of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, for games Friday and Saturday at 4 p.m. ADT against the Janesville Jets.
The Bears outshot Springfield on Friday and Saturday. In the four games the Brown Bears played at the season-opening NAHL Showcase, the Bears were only outshot once.
"To be honest, I thought we could have left the Showcase 3-1," David said. "We've been outshot only once."
David said the goaltending could have been better at the Showcase.
"We've kind of been struggling in net between two goaltenders — one who is young and one from Europe who has never been to America before," David said.
Obviously, Johannson solved that problem.
David said the Brown Bears are young, talented and have a chance to be deep.
Friday, 11 different players had points.
Dylan Meier started the scoring for Kenai River on Friday, and then a Lucas Kohls power-play goal gave the Bears a 2-0 lead just 8:16 into the game.
The Bears also owned the second period, with Kirk Van Arkel, Albin Karlsson and Vincent Stefan scoring for a 5-0 lead.
David said the goal in the third period was to get through the first few minutes without giving up a goal.
"A goal in the first few minutes is what it would take to give them a spark and an unbelievable win," David said.
Cody Dixon ruined the shutout just over five minutes into the third.
David also credited the defensemen with a solid game in front of Johansson.
Because he scored the second goal Friday, Kohls was credited with the game-winner. Kohls, on an assist from Matt Seidel, scored midway through the second period Saturday to give the Bears a 1-0 lead and notch another game-winner.
"It was a great individual effort," David said. "He created something out of nothing.
"We had two standout players on the weekend, and a standout team effort. The team battled and the defense was sound."
Chris Nuth notched a third-period goal for the Brown Bears.
David said the Bears are a young team brimming with talent. He said they are one of the three youngest teams in the league.
"Fans can expect a pretty exciting team," David said. "Patience is a virtue for me, that's what I would pass on after being around these guys for a month.
"I've seen some dynamic play, but I've also seen some big-time iffy plays as they learn."
Not every team in the West Division is going young. The Bears picked up Brad LeLievre from the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild over the weekend.
LeLievre came up from Wenatchee's youth program to play in his first junior hockey game last season at Kenai River. LeLievre, now 17, scored the game-winner in that game.
Brown Bears 5, Jr. Blues 1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Meier (Lazzaro, Davidson), 3:09; 2. Kenai River, Kohls (Bushey, Seidel), pp, 8:16. Penalties — Springfield 2 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Van Arkel (Haverstrom, Meier), 3:58; 4. Kenai River, Karlsson (Kohl, Stefan), pp, 13:15; 5. Kenai River, Stefan (Karlsson, Duesenberg), 16:41. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Springfield 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 6. Springfield, Dixon (Grandov), 5:01. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 11:00; Springfield 3 for 9:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 22-14-6—42; Springfield 16-7-12—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (35 shots, 34 saves); Springfield, Leon (42 shots, 37 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 9; Springfield 0 for 5.
Brown Bears 2, Jr. Blues 0
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Springfield 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Kohls (Seidel), 9:25. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 2. Kenai River, Nuth (Meier, Shand), 13:21. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Springfield 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-21-13—44; Springfield 9-20-12—41.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (41 shots, 41 saves); Springfield, Kellenberger (44 shots, 42 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Springfield 0 for 5.