As 15-year-old goalie Kris Oldham (yes, you read that right, 15) was walking past Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David in the Soldotna Sports Center hallway after the Bears 7-5 win over the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild on Friday, David asked Oldham how he had liked picking up the win in his junior hockey debut.
"It was awesome," Oldham said, his cherubic face looking out of place propped on a 6-foot-4 frame outfitted with bulging goalie gear. "I had fun."
They ain't all like this one, kid. Not even close.
It's not often the Wild and the Bears each give up four power-play goals, not when Wenatchee entered the evening No. 2 in the North American Hockey League on the penalty kill while Kenai River was at No. 5.
It's not often momentum swings this wildly — the Bears led 1-0, the Wild led 2-1, the Bears led 5-2, and the Wild tied the game at 5 before Kenai River's push to the finish.
It's not often Bliss Littler, USA Hockey's winningest coach in junior play, loses a sixth straight game.
And it's not often that a game-winner is scored like that of Alex Jackstadt's. With 8 minutes, 36 seconds, to play, Jackstadt dove on the ice to try and keep the puck in the offensive zone and possibly shovel it ahead to Zack Zulkanycz.
The puck ricocheted off Jackstadt's stick and fluttered over the stunned Wenatchee goaltender and into the net, to the delight of the 721 in attendance.
"It was a lucky bounce," David said. "We won the game on a lucky bounce.
"At the same time, the effort on that play was tremendous."
The win was the fourth in five games for the Bears and puts them at 25-24-6, good for third place in the division. Wenatchee is now 36-13-6 and one point behind Fairbanks for first in the division, so if the playoffs started today, the Bears and Wild would face off.
"We just gave up a lot of chances we don't normally give up," Littler said. "A lot of credit goes to Kenai.
"They're clearly very opportunistic. I don't know how they're a .500 team. They give us fits."
Brad Duwe, Vince Stefan and captain Zac Lazzaro led the charge. Duwe had two goals and three assists, Stefan had a goal and three assists, and Lazzaro buried two goals.
Those efforts spoiled a hat trick by Wenatchee's Chris Kerr and three assists each for Joshua Hartley and Noah Nelson.
Kenai River's game plan was to keep the pressure off Oldham, an affiliate player from the Alaska Junior Aces Under-16 program and the youngest player to ever don a Bears uniform.
With 14:06 left in the first, Lazzaro got that plan off to a good start with a power-play goal.
Then the Bears' Dylan Meier received a five-minute major and was ejected for a cross-check. A penalty on Matt Seidel set up a 5-on-3, and Kerr quickly tallied two goals, although the second technically came in the first seconds of the 5-on-4.
"The game plan was not to give the referee or anyone reason to take you off the ice, because we were giving a 15-year-old his first junior start," David said. "We didn't do a good job of protecting him."
In the second period, the Bears gave Oldham some breathing room. At the 15:07 mark, Stefan whistled a one-time, power-play slapper from the slot past Wenatchee goalie Robert Nichols.
With 13:36 to play and Wenatchee on the power play, Duwe had the goal of the night. He forced a turnover and broke out to a 2-on-1, beating Nichols high on his glove side.
Just 1:34 later, Seidel found Albin Karlsson wide open in front of the net for a goal. Littler then pulled Nichols, saying after the game the move was as much about firing up his team as it was about changing goalies.
"We outworked them in the second period," Stefan said. "We were winning the races to the puck."
Just 2:34 into the third period, Lazzaro again struck on the power play for a 5-2 lead, but Wenatchee wasted no time cutting into that lead.
A minute later, Kerr knifed through the slot for his hat trick. Power-play goals by Jacob Barber and Joe Sullivan had the game tied with 10:40 to play.
"We tried to stay up on the bench," Stefan said. "We kept our cool. We didn't get down at all."
David said the Wild did a great job of driving the puck hard to the net during the comeback.
After Jackstadt's tally at 8:36, Kenai River had to kill one more penalty with 3:59 left in the game.
Alec Butcher, who like Oldham and Jackstadt learned his hockey in Anchorage, made a pivotal play when he stole the puck near the blue line, raced out on a breakaway and drew a penalty shot with 2:40 to play.
Butcher then had the presence of mind to put on his assistant coach's cap.
"Butcher came over and said, 'Maybe it'd be a good idea if I didn't take the shot, coach,'" David said.
The coach looked at the clock. If Kenai River took the penalty instead, Wenatchee would only have 40 seconds to score after the power play expired. Seidel had missed a penalty shot earlier in the evening, and Wenatchee missed one Thursday. David decided Butcher was right.
When the power play ended, the Wild pulled the goalie but never really had any time to set anything up, and Duwe slid the puck into the empty net with 5 seconds left.
"Duwe has been on the upswing for three games in a row," David said. "He has proved he wants to be a player."
Duwe did not join the club until late November and was beginning to find his form when he was hit by two concussions in early January. He came back in mid-February and now has eight points in March.
"It's definitely coming back, but a lot of it has to do with the team," Duwe said. "I can get better, and this team can get better, too."
The Bears and Wild drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We just want to get out of here with two points," said Littler, whose squad has played five games on an Alaska road trip and lost them all. "We're a beat-up team right now. We've been on the road six of the last seven weeks."
Brown Bears 7, Wild 5
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Stefan, Duwe), pp, 5:54; 2. Wenatchee, Kerr (Nelson, Davis), pp, 15:39; 3. Wenatchee, Kerr (Nelson, Davis), pp, 16:51. Penalties — Wenatchee 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 4 for 19:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Stefan (Duwe, Bushinski), pp, 4:53; 5. Kenai River, Duwe (un.), 6:24; 6. Kenai River, Karlsson (Stefan, Seidel), 7:58. Penalties — Wenatchee 3 for 9:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Duwe, Stefan), pp, 2:34; 8. Wenatchee, Kerr (McHugh, Hartley), 3:35; 9. Wenatchee, Barber (Nelson, Hartley), pp, 5:24; 10. Wenatchee, Sullivan (Hartley), pp, 9:20; 11. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Butcher, Zulkanycz), pp, 11:24; 12. Kenai River, Duwe (Davidson, Walker), 19:55. Penalties — Wenatchee 6 for 12:00; Kenai River 6 for 12:00.
Shots on goal — Wenatchee 12-10-14—36; Kenai River 11-12-17—40.
Goalies — Wenatchee, Nichols (26 shots, 21 saves); Kenai River, Schmit (13 shots, 12 saves).
Power plays —