The Kenai River Brown Bears and the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats split games Friday and Saturday at the Kay Yeager Coliseum in Texas.
The Bears won 2-1 Friday in front of 3,476 fans. Saturday, in front of 1,453, the Wildcats triumphed 6-2 to get their first victory in four tries against the Bears this year.
Kenai River is now 10-9-3, good for 23 points and third place in the North American Hockey League West Division. Fairbanks leads with 32 points, Wenatchee (Wash.) has 29, and Fresno (Calif.) has 15.
The Brown Bears started the weekend Friday with a tight victory over the Wildcats.
“It was a well-executed road win,” Brown Bears coach Oliver David said.
Wichita Falls ended up with a 33-16 advantage on shots. David said a lot of that was due to power plays. He said the Wildcats shoot a lot on their power play, and Wichita Falls also kept Kenai River’s power play from clicking.
The Brown Bears were 0 for 4 on the power play, while the Wildcats were 0 for 5.
The advantage in shots didn’t amount to much due to goaltender Gustaf Johannson’s 32 saves.
“He was sensational,” David said. “He was our player of the game. He kept us in the game in the second period.”
The Brown Bears were outshot 13-3 in the second period, but the game was still scoreless.
Just 3 minutes, 25 seconds, into the third period, Matt Seidel changed that. With the aid of Zac Lazzaro, he picked up a turnover, skated out to a two-man breakaway, and buried the chance. The goal left Seidel tied for 10th in the league with 23 points.
With 4:42 left to play, the Bears went up 2-0 with a stirring display of passing. Connor McGovern hit Vincent Stefan with a breakout pass. Stefan then passed to Albin Karlsson, who waited for a defender to slide past him, then he slid the puck to Alex Jackstadt, who was right on the goal line to touch in the goal.
It was McGovern’s first game with the team. He comes from the Austin (Minn.) Bruins of the NAHL. Stefan was able to make the trip to Texas after a recent car crash.
“It was four guys with tape-to-tape passes that went 200 feet,” David said. “It was unbelievable.”
Johannson lost the shutout with 1:57 to play, when George Pagonis scored.
David said the Wildcats did not play a different style than they had used in Soldotna. He said the smaller rink made a difference, and he said Wichita Falls connected the dots better on its home ice.
David said the defensemen did a good job blocking shots, and gave particular kudos to Ryan Walker and Carson Vance.
Saturday, David said the Bears did a lot of things well, and even improved in some areas from Friday, but poor play in a few areas led to the lopsided loss.
The game was scoreless with 1:01 left in the first period when Kenai River’s Jake Bushey won his first fight as a junior player.
However, the momentum from that was halted immediately when Tyler Ledford and Ben Kucera scored in the final minute of the first period to give the Wildcats the lead.
Johansson was pulled after making six saves in the first. Sean Healy came on to make 24 saves.
“We weren’t really pleased with what happened at the end of the first period,” David said. “It’s a two-week road trip, a two-series road trip, and we wanted to get Healy some time, especially on the road.”
Eliot Grauer scored for the Wildcats to start the second period before Alec Butcher scored on assists from Karlsson and Jackstadt for a 3-1 game.
After Kyle Bauman scored for the Wildcats, Jackstadt, on assists from Bushey and Ryan Walker, cut it to 4-2 with a power-play goal.
“Jackstadt had a very complete series,” David said.
Bauman and Conor O’Neil salted away the game in the third period with goals.
Evan Cowley earned the win for the Wildcats with 28 saves.
The Brown Bears have now played six games without scoring more than three goals. The team had more than three goals in nine of its first 16 games.
“We might have to shuffle up some lines,” David said.
David also said some members of the team have to keep in mind that’s it’s always possible to contribute without getting points.
“There is a way to contribute to the team winning without putting goals in the net,” David said. “You can keep it simple, make hits and manage the puck correctly.”
The Bears travel to face the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays on Friday and Saturday at 4:05 p.m. AST. The IceRays defeated the Brown Bears 3-2 and 3-2 in Soldotna to start November.
Brown Bears 2, Wildcats 1
Kenai River 0 0 2 —2
Wichita Falls 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Wichita Falls 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Wichita Falls 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 1. Kenai River, Seidel (Lazzaro), 3:25; 2. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Karlsson, Stefan), 15:18; 3. Wichita Falls, Pagonis (Farmer), 18:03. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-3-5—16; Wichita Falls 7-13-13—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (33 shots, 32 saves); Wichita Falls, Cowley (16 shots, 14 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Wichita Falls 0 for 5.
Wildcats 6, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 2 0 —2
Wichita Falls 2 2 2 —6
First period — 1. Wichita Falls, Ledford (Grauer, Knudson), 19:34; 2. Wichita Falls, Kucera (Bauman, Staub), 19:57. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 11:00; Wichita Falls 5 for 15:00.
Second period — 3. Wichita Falls, Grauer (un.), 12:16; 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Karlsson, Jackstadt), 12:30; 5. Wichita Falls, Bauman (un), sh, 18:54; 6. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Bushey, Walker), pp, 19:46. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Wichita Falls 4 for 11:00.
Third period — 7. Wichita Falls, Bauman (Staub, Kucera), 4:50; 8. Wichita Falls, O’Neil (Vosejpka), 11:46. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Wichita Falls 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-11-11—30; Wichita Falls 8-16-12—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (8 shots, 6 saves), Healy (28 shots, 24 saves); Wichita Falls, Cowley (30 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 6; Wichita Falls 0 for 5.