The Kenai River Brown Bears hockey team shut out the Fresno Monsters (Calif.) for a 4-0 victory in the first home game of the season Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Not only was it the first division game for Kenai (4-2-3), but it broke a tie for third-place in the North American Hockey League West division standings with Fresno, and now the team holds 11 points total, two ahead of Fresno and only three behind the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
“Fresno has been on the road for a month, and they are probably and understandably tired, and when you’re on the road, sometimes no matter what you put together is going to work,” Kenai head coach Oliver David said. “We got some opportunities that aren’t going to present themselves every game, but we have a little jump in our step. The team had a big effort, and tonight we were able to respond.
“I told the guys to remember what works and what doesn’t.”
The win kicked off a ten-game home stand for the Bears that includes the entire month of October.
While Kenai was enjoying their victory, it was a different atmosphere in the opposing locker room. Fresno didn’t record a single goal despite 18 shots. Head coach Eric Ballard said the list of things that went right for Fresno was short.
“We didn’t come to play at all,” Ballard said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Kenai, because they played hard, and we didn’t. It’s that simple. We didn’t do anything good from the drop of the puck to the end of the game.”
The Brown Bears got the party started early, scoring exactly one minute into the game, as Alex Jackstadt shot at point blank into Fresno’s net, with the assist from Dylan Meier and Chris Nuth.
A little over five minutes later, it was Matt Seidel who managed a one-touch goal that was made possible by Albin Karlsson and Lucas Kohls.
“I feel that they didn’t have a chance,” Karlsson said. “In every part of the game, we were better. They can forecheck and get pucks, but we are stronger. We’ll see how they are tomorrow.”
A lead of 2-0 after the first period did not stop the Brown Bears, as Lucas Kohls extended the lead with a wide open shot early in the second period on a powerplay.
Just to add the icing to the cake, it was the home-town favorite, Zach Zulkanycz of Kenai, sending a bullet into the net with a little over three minutes to go to seal the win. The goal was Zulkanycz’s first of the season, and first ever playing for the Bears.
“Pretty good timing for him, I think he planned that, to score his first goal in front of the home crowd,” David quipped. “He has a very heavy shot, when he puts some muscle into it, and everyone’s happy for him. He’s kind of a locker room favorite, and everyone enjoys his presence.”
Zulkanycz led Kenai with four shots on goal, while teammates Jude Warner and Matt Seidel each had three.
Kenai River was missing its captain, Zac Lazzaro, along with a few other key players, including veteran Ryan Walker, due to injury and illness, but David is not worried.
“Our line combinations may not stay as consistent as in years past, but we have guys that can be plugged into the lineup at any given point,” David said. “We had our captain out of the game, and another big player out of the game with a leg infection, and so the team will look different night in and night out, but the guys we have here are believers at the moment. They’re trying to execute how they are being asked to.”
Brown Bears 4, Monsters 0
Kenai River 2 1 1 —4
Fresno 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Meier, Nuth), 1:00; 2. Kenai River, Seidel (Karlsson, Kohls), 6:16. Penalties — none.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Kohls (Seidel) shorthanded, 4:09. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Fresno 3 for 9:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Deal, Stefan), 16:39. Penalties — Fresno 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-8-7—23; Fresno 3-7-8—18.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (18 shots, 18 saves); Fresno, Haight (23 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fresno 0 for 1.