The Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild of the North American Hockey League are not the easiest opponent to confront on any given weekend, seeing as they own the fourth-highest total of points scored in the league, so it was no surprise when Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David was happy to end a three-game series with the Wild on Saturday undefeated in regulation, as the Brown Bears earned a 2-1 victory at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee.
“It was a total team effort,” David said. “(Marcus) Zelzer held us in the game through two periods, and we had many back-and-forth chances with them and he did his job. Four out of six points is the best we’ve ever done in a three-game series.”
On Thursday, the Bears let a late lead slip away and went into overtime with the Wild, where they lost 4-3, but still gained a point. On Friday, it was the Wild that lost a lead when Zac Lazzaro slipped the puck in with three seconds left in regulation. The Bears lost 2-1 in a shootout, but again gained a point.
On Saturday, Kenai River got over the hump and took two points, bringing their total to 38 on the year, and a 16-19-6 record, placing them third in the NAHL West Division standings.
“They were three extremely close games,” David said. “To have everything go the way it did, I’m proud of these guys. We’re still facing sickness and injury, so there were a lot of ups and downs on the roller coaster.”
After a scoreless first period, Kenai River got on the board with a power-play goal from Matt Seidel in the second. Wenatchee came back to knot it up halfway through the third period when Trace Redmond converted on a shot.
Exactly two minutes later, all chaos broke out.
Kenai River’s Alec Butcher scored the ultimate game-winner on another power play with assists from Seidel and Albin Karlsson, but a fight soon broke out on the ice, resulting in 10 penalties (three for Kenai) and 47 total penalty minutes (six for Kenai). Even more interesting, Wenatchee coach Bliss Littler was ejected from the game on an “abuse of officials” charge.
“I’ve never experienced anything like what happened at the end in my career,” David said. “It was a circus. That’s all I’ll say about that.
“It actually got (Wenatchee) pretty motivated and they took it to us, but we were able to settle in and we ended on an upswing.”
Another scuffle broke out when the buzzer sounded, involving Kenai River assistant captain Ryan Walker and Wenatchee’s Jacob Barber, which resulted in six penalties for 42 minutes.
David pointed to Kenai River’s defense as the main factor in Saturday’s win, as well as not having any regulation losses in the three-game series.
“All of our defensemen in all three games were a big reason for the points,” he said. “They played a big role. It’s also the first time we’ve really played the same goalie in all three games.
Kenai River goalie Marcus Zelzer had 35 saves on 36 shots for the win.
“He said he had the energy and proved himself right,” David said.
According to David, Walker was fighting flu symptoms starting on Friday, and resorted to using an IV drip on Saturday morning, and the coach commended Walker on his toughness.
David also said that even the Bears have had a slew of nail-biting close losses recently, the trends are pointing upward for the team.
“It’s a sign that we are operating at the level we want to operate,” he said. “We’re almost there, and it’s a good sign. It gives me anxiety and panic as a coach, but in the end, to have a good hockey team, walking out of here undefeated in regulation feels good.”
Heading into Friday’s game, the Kenai River Brown Bears had coughed up third-period leads in their last three games.
Friday, it was the Brown Bears stealing a point with a late rally.
Lazzaro scored an extra-attacker goal with three seconds left in the third period to force a 1-1 tie with the Wild. The Bears eventually lost the shootout 2-0.
But Lazzaro’s late goal let the Brown Bears earn a point in Wenatchee’s building for the second straight night.
Chris Kerr scored for Wenatchee just 4:23 into the game.
After that, there were more fights than goals. There was one fight in the first period, and two fights in the second period.
In the shootout, Zack Zulkanycz, Seidel, Butcher and Mikhail Bushinski all missed for Kenai River. Barber and Kerr scored for Wenatchee.
Zelzer had 29 saves for the Bears, while Robert Nichols had 32 saves for the Wild.
Brown Bears 2, Wild 1
Kenai River 0 1 1 —2
Wenatchee 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Wenatchee 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Seidel (Karlsson), 8:58. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Wenatchee 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 2. Wenatchee, Redmond (Hartley, Schmidbauer), 11:31; 3. Kenai River, Butcher (Seidel, Karlsson), pp, 13:31. Penalties — Kenai River 7 for 33:00; Wenatchee 11 for 60:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-6-9—21; Wenatchee 12-17-7—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Zelzer (36 shots, 35 saves); Wenatchee, Schmit (21 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 6; Wenatchee 0 for 1.
Wild 2, Brown Bears 1, SO
Kenai River 0 0 1 0 0 —1
Wenatchee 1 0 0 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Kerr (Nelson), 4:23. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 7:00; Wenatchee 3 for 17:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 26:00; Wenatchee 4 for 22:00.
Third period — 2. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Deal), ea, 19:57. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Wenatchee 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-8-11-6-0—33; Wenatchee 12-11-5-2-0—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Zelzer (30 shots, 29 saves); Wenatchee, Nichols (33 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Wenatchee 0 for 5.