The Kenai River Brown Bears ended the first half of the North American Hockey League season by splitting a pair of games against the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild on Friday and Saturday nights, taking a 5-3 win on Friday before suffering a 5-2 loss on Saturday at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.
The Brown Bears are now solidly holding onto third place in the North American Hockey League West division standings with 30 points, 12 ahead of Fresno (Calif.), and a 13-13-4 season record. Wenatchee continues to lead the West with 46 points and a 22-4-2 record, four points better than Fairbanks, who also won on Saturday in a 5-4 win against Fresno.
On Saturday, Kenai River and Wenatchee each had 11 shots on goal in the first period but it was the Wild that gained the most from that, taking a 3-0 lead into the second period. Kenai River head coach Oliver David started goalie Evan McCarthy in favor of Gustaf Johansson, but McCarthy only lasted six minutes, 28 seconds and let in three of 11 shots before being pulled. Johansson ended up with 19 saves on 21 shots.
“We wanted to give him a chance to play because we haven’t really seen how he is in game situations this year, and we wanted to give him a shot to play against his old team,” Kenai assistant coach Kyle Bailey said. “We wanted to give Gustaf some rest, but (McCarthy) came out a little nervous. It’s not all his fault, we just had a couple of defensive breakdowns in front of him.”
Matthew Meier scored for the Bears first goal at the 5:25 mark in the second period, but the Wild put a stop to any thoughts of a comeback with a Max McHugh goal early in the third period to make it 4-1. Matt Seidel scored Kenai River’s other goal. The Brown Bears put up an impenetrable defensive f ront on the penalty kill, and did not allow the Wild to score on any of their three power plays.
“I thought we played a good 55 minutes of hockey,” Bailey said. “The first five minutes kind of took us back a little bit. Once we got our legs under us, we played well.”
Nathan Flynn scored Wenatchee’s fifth goal with 1:15 left in the game, and soon after a massive brawl broke out with eight seconds remaining that led to the ejection of four players, including Kenai River’s Ryan Walker and Brad LeLievre. According to Bailey, Wenatchee’s David Mead threw a big hit on Kenai River forward Zac Lazzaro, and Walker and LeLievre came to defend their captain.
“Even though it was a fight, we’re proud of Ryan and Brad backing their teammate and standing up for him,” Bailey said. “But it’s too bad that happened because now they’ll be gone for Monday’s game.”
Pending league action, Walker and LeLievre will tentatively miss Monday’s final matchup with the Wild. Kenai River will finish off their three-game series against Wenatchee on Monday (New Years eve) at 5:05 p.m. local time at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.
The Kenai River Brown Bears got their road trip to Wenatchee off to a good start on Friday night by defeating the Wenatchee Wild 5-3 at the Town Toyota Center.
The first period seemingly provided all the action, as six goals were scored between the two teams, five coming before the first eight minutes. Kenai River had an impressive four goals on only six shots in the period, while Wenatchee floundered with 17 shots but only two goals. Bailey said the first five minutes of Friday’s game looked much different from the first five minutes on Saturday.
“We got off to a great start and had a couple quick goals,” Bailey said. “The first few minutes was the opposite of what we had on Saturday, and we sustained that pressure and kept them on their heels.”
Kenai grabbed an early lead on an Alex Jackstadt goal, but Blake Roubos scored on a power play minutes later to even things up.
Only a minute, 16 seconds later, it was Kenai River’s Matt Seidel scoring unassisted to give the Brown Bears a 2-1 lead. The goal ultimately ended up as the game winner, but the intensity was far from over.
Heading into the final period, the Bears held a slim 4-3 lead, and needed an insurance goal to be able to breathe easy.
It did not come until 25 seconds left in the game, when Albin Karlsson put Kenai River’s fifth and final goal in on Wenatchee’s empty net.
“You just never know, it could be the goalie, good offense or defense,” Bailey said about the difference between the two games. “It could be a number of things.”
Brown Bears 5, Wild 3
Kenai River 4 0 1 —5
Wenatchee 2 1 0 —3
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Loewenstein, Stefan), 1:28; 2. Wenatchee, Roubos (Powlowski, Eichstadt), 4:47; 3. Kenai River, Seidel (unassisted), 6:03; 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Duwe), 7:34; 5. Wenatchee, Redmond (Bruneteau, Mead), 7:54; 6. Kenai River, Duwe (Davidson, Bushey), 17:59. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Wenatchee 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 7. Wenatchee, Barber (Hartley, Abood), 15:18. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 19:00; Wenatchee 4 for 8:00.
3rd period — 8. Kenai River, Karlsson (Jackstadt), 19:35. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 6:00; Wenatchee 3 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-11-7—24; Wenatchee 17-9-7—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (33 shots, 30 saves); Wenatchee, Nichols (23 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7; Wenatchee 2 for 5.
Wild 5, Brown Bears 2
Wenatchee 3 0 2 —5
Kenai River 0 1 1 —2
1st period — 1. Wenatchee, Hartley (Powlowski), 3:54; 2. Wenatchee, Davis (Williams), 5:16; 3. Wenatchee, Schmidbauer (Abood), 5:47. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Wenatchee 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 4. Kenai River, Meier (Deal), 5:25. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Wenatchee 2 for 4:00.
3rd period — 5. Wenatchee, McHugh (Nelson), :55; 6. Kenai River, Seidel (Duwe), 13:02; 7. Wenatchee, Flynn (unassisted), 18:45. Penalties — 5 for 32:00; Wenatchee 7 for 44:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-7-3—21; Wenatchee 11-12-9—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, McCarthy (11 shots, 8 saves), Johansson (21 shots, 19 saves); Wenatchee, Nichols (21 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 6; Wenatchee 0 for 3.