Having a home-opening series in the midst of a nice autumn weekend against the loaded and experienced Fairbanks Ice Dogs was not ideal for the Kenai River Brown Bears, but it paid dividends Wednesday.
The Bears opened the North American Hockey League Showcase with a 4-2 victory over the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas at the Schwans Super Rink in Blaine, Minn.
The showcase is an opportunity for NAHL players to perform in front of college and pro scouts. Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant, who picked up his first win as the Kenai River bench boss Wednesday, said having the chance to work a few bugs out at home before the showcase was invaluable. The Bears were swept by Fairbanks, which rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues on Wednesday, on Friday and Saturday.
"We learned from the mistakes we made this past weekend," Beauparlant said. "We were able to close out the game.
"That's the single most positive thing moving forward."
Before the franchise moved before this season, the Brahmas were the Texas Tornado for 13 years, winning five Robertson Cup championships.
The Brahmas' new coach is Dan Wildfong, who had spent the last six seasons as a head coach and general manager in minor league hockey. Lone Star opened its season by winning and losing in overtime against the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) Killer Bees, whose roster was a Roberston Cup runner-up last season as the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild.
But after falling behind 1-0, the Bears had their way with one of the league's banner franchises, outshooting the Brahmas 39-13 and taking a 3-1 lead into the final period.
"They played a physical game with us, and the guys responded well," Beauparlant said. "They didn't let the physical play make them stray from the game plan.
"They kept their cool and made them pay on the scoreboard."
The coach said another big positive to come out of the game was some of the team's top talent sacrificing for the team.
Both Sebastian Fuchs and Alec Butcher are on the top scoring line with Albin Karlsson. The problem is both Fuchs and Butcher are natural centers.
Against Fairbanks, Fuchs played on the wing. Against Lone Star, Butcher was on the wing.
"They're willing to play wherever I'd like them to play," Beauparlant said. "That says a lot about their commitment to the hockey club."
The new formation worked Wednesday, as Fuchs had two goals, Butcher had a goal and Karlsson had an assist.
"We kept Butcher on the right side and that allowed Alec and Albin to use their speed out of the zone," Beauparlant said. "Sebastian has such great vision."
Beauparlant said Vince Stefan also had a solid debut. Stefan was playing in his first game since breaking his ankle in Game 4 of a playoff series against Fairbanks last season.
"He looked like he had been skating all training camp and summer," Beauparlant said. "He was a big piece of our success on the back end.
"It was fun to see him out there again full speed."
Defenseman Jake Bushey had a goal and an assist, while defenseman Gustav Berglund had an assist.
Goalie Zach Quinn made 11 saves.
"It's scary to say he's given up seven goals and he hasn't had a chance on seven," Beauparlant said. "He was steady and controlled play."
The coach said Matt Rudin and Conor Deal also played a key role in the victory by winning late faceoffs.
The Bears continue play in the showcase Thursday by facing the Janesville (Wis.) Jets at 5 p.m. ADT.
Janesville was the youngest team in the league last season, so the Jets return plenty of talent. Four of their players already have Division I commitments.
The Jets lost talent on defense, but have rebuilt by, among other things, adding former Brown Bears player Carson Vance.
"They're a well-coached team," Beauparlant said. "They're probably a little younger as well, but they do have those commitments. We expect a battle."
Brown Bears 4, Brahmas 2
First period — 1. Lone Star, Solovyev (Hudecek, Fregeau), 14:07; 2. Kenai River, Fuchs (Bushey), 15:14. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Lone Star 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Butcher (Berglund), 0:55; 4. Kenai River, Bushey (Stefan), pp, 17:49. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Lone Star 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Lone Star, Stirtzinger (Korzinski, Duggan), 3:13; 6. Kenai River, Fuchs (Karlsson), 8:13. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Lone Star 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-15-11—39; Lone Star 2-6-5—13.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (13 shots, 11 saves); Lone Star, Soderqvist (39 shots, 35 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Lone Star 1 for 3.