One of the league’s best road teams is enjoying one of the league’s toughest road trips.
The Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays swept the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 on Friday in front of 951 fans and 3-2 on Saturday in front of 907 at the Soldotna Sports Center to remain undefeated in regulation on the road.
The IceRays are the only North American Hockey League team without a road loss this year. They improve to 7-7-4, while Kenai River falls to 8-7-3.
Last weekend, Corpus Christi began the grinding and long trip to Alaska with a shootout loss and a win in notoriously inhospitable Fairbanks.
“This is the first real road trip we’ve had,” said Corpus Christi captain Perry D’Arrisso, who scored the game-winner with 2:21 to play on Friday. “We’ve definitely had time for team bonding, being around the guys 24-7.
“That’s a reason for our success.”
Corpus Christi head coach Justin Quenneville, who was serving the third game of a three-game suspension Friday, said that for the most part, his squad just keeps it simple on the road.
“We try to play a physical, in-your-face style of hockey,” Quenneville said. “We don’t change what we do, except on the power play and in certain specialty situations.”
Quenneville said the plan Friday was to not chase the Brown Bears around the Olympic-sized ice and create openings for Kenai River to exploit.
The Bears outshot the IceRays 49-27, but, for the most part, IceRays goalie Hayden Stewart did not have to deal with many odd-man rushes in making 47 saves.
“Their goalie was outstanding,” Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said. “We got 50 pucks on net. We did a good job of getting the puck to the net.”
The Bears went up 1-0 in the first period on a rebound goal by Conor Deal.
With 53 seconds to play in the period, Albin Karlsson showed why he is a Division I recruit when he picked a puck away in Brown Bears zone, skated out to a 2-on-1, then beat Stewart by clanging in a wrister off the pipe.
Quenneville said assistant Jeff Worlton, who now starts a six-game suspension of his own, filled in expertly on Friday, especially after the first period.
“We didn’t have enough energy in the first period,” Quenneville said. “Jeff did a great job firing them up between periods.”
Michael Economos and AJ Jarosz had second-period goals as Corpus Christi drew even despite being outshot 17-11 in the period.
“We had a few letdowns in the second period,” David said.
The coach said his team recovered by playing a strong third period, outshooting the IceRays 16-7.
None of that mattered when a Kenai River defenseman tried to keep the puck in the IceRays’ zone late in the third, only to have D’Arrisso pick the puck off the boards and skate out to a 2-on-1.
D’Arrisso said he picked out a spot as he was entering the faceoff circle and nailed it.
“I think he is a phenomenal goalie,” D’Arrisso said of Gustaf Johannson, who made 24 saves. “He didn’t leave me much. I think I just got lucky.”
D’Arrisso finished Friday tied for 13th in the league with 18 points on five goals and 13 assists.
“That was clutch,” Quenneville said. “That was our captain. They call it a game-winner for a reason. He has scored some big goals for us this year.”
Going into the game, the Bears looked to have an advantage on special teams, with a power play ranked sixth and penalty kill ranked fifth. The IceRays were 13th on the power play and 18th on the penalty kill.
However, Corpus Christi held Kenai River to 0 for 4 on the power play, while one of the IceRays’ second-period goals came just seconds after the power play expired.
“On the power play, we couldn’t figure it out,” David said. “Especially the first unit, we had an off night.”
Quenneville said the IceRays played conservative on the penalty kill.
“We knew they were effective on the power play,” he said. “Why play to their strength? We figured we had to play back, let them pass it around and use some time.”
Saturday followed a similar script. The Bears took the lead on a first-period goal by Alex Jackstadt, but D’Arrisso scored before the end of the first and Eric Purcell scored the lone goal of the second period to give the IceRays a 2-1 lead.
Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz tied the game with 8:03 left, but Purcell scored on the power play with 1:58 left for the game-winner.
Once again, Corpus Christi did well on special teams, finishing 2 for 5 on the power play while Kenai River was 0 for 4.
Stewart had 43 saves for the IceRays, while Healy made 38 saves for Kenai River.
IceRays 3, Brown Bears 2
Corpus Christi 0 2 1 —3
Kenai River 2 0 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Deal (Zulkanycz, Vance), 11:43; 2. Kenai River, Karlsson (Bushey), 19:07. Penalties — Corpus Christi 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Corpus Christi, Economos (D’Arrisso), 4:19; 4. Corpus Christi, Jarosz (Economos, Paras), 8:34. Penalties — Corpus Christi 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Corpus Christi D’Arrisso (Ginley), 17:39. Penalties — Corpus Christi 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Corpus Christi 9-11-7—27; Kenai River 16-17-16—49.
Goalies — Corpus Christi, Stewart (49 shots, 47 saves); Kenai River, Johansson (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Corpus Christi 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 4.
IceRays 3, Brown Bears 2
Corpus Christi 1 1 1 —3
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Meier, Karlsson), 7:44; 2. Corpus Christi, D’Arrisso (Purcell), 14:23. Penalties — Corpus Christi 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Corpus Christi, Purcell (Romig), 7:55. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (LeLievre, Deal), 11:57; 5. Corpus Christi, Purcell (Sulmonte, Jarosz), pp, 18:02. Penalties — Corpus Christi 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Corpus Christi 12-15-14—41; Kenai River 17-17-11—45.
Goalies — Corpus Christi, Stewart (45 shots, 43 saves); Kenai River, Healy (41 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Corpus Christi 2 for 5; Kenai River 0 for 4.