On Thursday night, the Kenai River Brown Bears earned the respect of the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild.
On Friday and Saturday, the Bears felt the full force of that respect.
The Wild responded to a 7-5 loss to the Bears on Thursday by rebounding for a 6-2 victory over Kenai River on Friday and a 2-0 victory on Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center. There were 860 fans on Friday and 899 on Saturday.
“We didn’t show them enough respect,” said Wenatchee coach Bliss Littler of the Thursday loss.
The Wild improved to 11-2-1 in the North American Hockey League, which gives them the most points in the league and in the West Division. Fairbanks is second in the league and division with 22 points.
Kenai River is 6-4-3 and remains in third place in the West Division. Fresno (Calif.) is in last with 12 points.
Dillon Eichstadt, Nathan Flynn and Derick Kuchera scored in the first period Friday as the Wild took control of the game with an aggressive forecheck and swift transition through the neutral zone.
“All in all, we need to focus in on details and our system in the defensive zone,” Kenai River captain Zac Lazzaro said. “(Thursday) night for the first two periods, we were focused in the defensive zone.
“In the third period, we let down and that continued in the first period.”
The Bears led 7-1 on Thursday, but were outscored 4-0 in the third period.
Due to a Guns ‘N’ Hoses promotion to honor the central Peninsula’s first responders Friday, the Brown Bears were auctioning off special jerseys between periods.
“I think the 35-minute intermission after the first period was the biggest factor in the game,” Littler said. “We were rolling and ready to go, then we had a 35-minute intermission.”
The Bears battled their way back into the game in the second period. At the 15:29 mark, Vincent Stefan scored a power-play goal on assists from Matt Seidel and Lucas Kohls. With 2:51 left, Kohls dug a puck out of the corner and found Lazzaro out front for a goal.
The Wild took a four-minute minor with 31 seconds to play in the second, meaning the Bears would have an extended chance to tie the game at the start of the third.
“Oliver had to be feeling pretty good at that point,” Littler said. “They had been outplayed, but they were down only a goal and they were on the power play.”
On Thursday, Wenatchee was 0 for 5 on the power play while Kenai River was 2 for 6. Wenatchee came into Friday’s game second in the league on the penalty kill and fifth on the power play, while the Bears were seventh on the penalty kill and 11th on the power play.
Special teams would be the difference in the third period.
The Bears could not solve Wenatchee’s penalty kill in the first 3:29 of the third despite fresh ice and fresh legs.
Wenatchee then went on the power play with 11:37 left in the game and Jono Davis, who leads the league in goals and points, beat a Kenai River defender one-on-one for a goal with 10:33 left.
“We didn’t put our power play together and their player made a good, individual, skilled play,” Kenai River coach Oliver David said.
Littler said he thought the Bears were thinking they could steal the game, but Davis’ tally was key in changing that thinking.
The goal put the Bears in a momentary lull, and the Wild quickly closed the game, with Evan Schmidbauer scoring with 6:37 left and Blake Roubos scoring with 5:28 left.
“They obviously know how to close out a game,” David said. “They are in first place. They’ve only lost twice.
“They know how to close out a game and we haven’t figured that out yet.”
David said the Bears are a young team that must learn that maximum effort is required at all times at the junior level, not just against top teams like Wenatchee, but against any team.
“Any team in this league is good enough that if you take one shift off, it can change the game,” Lazzaro said.
Saturday saw a low-scoring affair. Blake Roubos scored in the first period and Davis scored in the third period for the Wild.
Robert Nichols recorded the shutout with 18 saves, while Gustaf Johansson had 33 saves for Kenai River.
The Brown Bears host Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats on Oct. 26 and 27 at the sports center. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.
Wild 6, Brown Bears 2
Wenatchee 3 0 3 —6
Kenai River 0 2 0 —2
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Eichstadt (Schmidbauer, Redmond), 7:06; 2. Wenatchee, Flynn (Powlowski, Hartley), 16:55; 3. Wenatchee, Kuchera (un.) 19:26. Penalties — none.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Stefan (Seidel, Kohls), 4:31; 5. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Kohls), 17:09. Penalties — Wenatchee 4 for 18:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Wenatchee, Davis (un.), 9:27; 7. Wenatchee, Schmidbauer (Redmond), 13:23; 8. Wenatchee, Roubos (Powlowski), 14:32. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Wenatchee 12-10-11—33; Kenai River 5-11-3—19.
Goalies — Wenatchee, Nichols (19 shots, 17 saves); Kenai River, Healy (33 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Wenatchee 1 for 1; Kenai River 1 for 2.
Wild 2, Brown Bears 0
Wenatchee 1 0 1 —2
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Roubos (Kerr, Davis), 12:57. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 5:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Wenatchee 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 2. Wenatchee, Davis (McHugh, Nelson), 16:23. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Wenatchee 11-13-11—35; Kenai River 5-9-4—18.
Goalies — Wenatchee, Nichols (18 shots, 18 saves); Kenai River, Johansson (35 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Wenatchee 0 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 3.