The Kenai River Brown Bears moved into sole possession of first place in the Midwest Division with a 4-3 shootout win over the host Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild on Friday.
With the goalie pulled, Vince Stefan tied the game at 3 with just 41 seconds remaining to stun 2,380 fans at the Town Toyota Center.
Albin Karlsson, Nathan Colwell and Alec Butcher then scored in the shootout as goalie Zach Quinn improved to 4-0 in shootouts.
The Bears won their 10th game in 11 tries to improve to 10-3, getting the most out of their plus-8 goal differential for the year. The Minnesota Wilderness are in second in the division, trailing by just a point.
Friday was the third straight time the Bears triumphed in extra time, and the second straight game they scored with an extra attacker to even the score. Half the team's wins have come from going 5-0 when the score is tied after regulation.
"It's a combination of things," said Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant, when asked to explain the team's success in late-game situations. "It's maybe a little bit of luck, but at the same time I think we work hard.
"If you compete in this league, and you are willing to put it on the line for 60 minutes, sometimes extra time, you are going to be successful."
Stefan's goal to tie the game shows that mix of luck, hard work and skill.
"Both teams were battling hard and the puck popped out to Gustav Berglund," Beauparlant said. "He did a nice little slip pass to Vinny, who put it in the back of the net.
"Sometimes, it's about being in the right place at the right time, but at the same time Vinny had his stick on the ice ready to score a goal."
Beauparlant said the Bears refused to accept defeat late in the third period when all indications were leaning that way.
Kenai River, outshot 42-22 in the game, took a two-minute minor and a five-minute major in the last 10 minutes of the game. Wenatchee's Trey Bradley scored on the major with 6:19 left in the game for the 3-2 lead.
When Kenai River finished killing off the rest of the major with 2:26 to play, Beauparlant said the line of Colwell, Brody Decker and Frankie Spellman had a great shift and hit the crossbar to swing the momentum.
"They did a great job all night creating offense with unselfish hockey," Beauparlant said of the line.
In the shootout, the Wild took a 1-0 lead after the first round but Karlsson evened the slate by going 3 for 3 in shootouts this year.
Wenatchee led 2-1 after the third round, but Colwell and Butcher both scored as the Bears came back for victory. Quinn has now stopped 16 of 20 in shootouts this season.
Butcher gave the Bears the lead in the first period on assists from Karlsson and Sebastian Fuchs. After Troy Loggins tied the game for Wenatchee, Butcher struck again on assists from Karlsson and Fuchs.
David Powlowski scored with 5:55 left in the second for a 2-all tie.
Wenatchee outshot Kenai River 20-8 in the second period.
"I thought they came with a good game plan and executed it," Beauparlant said of the Wild. "They definitely wore us down in the second period. If it wasn't for our goaltending, we might have been down a couple heading into the third."
Quinn made 39 saves, while Chase Perry had 19 saves for the Wild.
The Wild finished 2 for 5 on the power play, while Kenai River was 0 for 3. The Bears are now 0 for 22 on the man advantage in the last four games, having been shut out since Tyler Andrews scored with two seconds left for a 3-2 victory over the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill on Oct. 4.
"We're still hesitant at times to shoot," Beauparlant said. "We want to make that extra pass for the backdoor, slam-dunk goal."
The Bears face the Wild at 6:05 p.m. ADT Saturday and 4:05 p.m. Sunday.
Bears 4, Wild 3, SO
First period — 1. Kenai River, Butcher (Karlsson, Fuchs), 14:16. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Wenatchee, Loggins (Bradley, Tuomie), pp, 6:54; 3. Kenai River, Butcher (Karlsson, Fuchs), 7:15; 4. Wenatchee, Powlowski (Rivera), 14:05. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Wenatchee, Bradley (Loggins), pp, 13:41; 6. Kenai River, Stefan (un.), ea, 19:19. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Wenatchee 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 3 (Stefan NG, Karlsson G, Fuchs NG, Colwell G, Butcher G); Wenatchee 2 (Pison G, Tuomie NG, Bradley G, Loggins NG, Salvato NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-8-6-0—22; Wenatchee 7-20-12-3—42.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (42 shots, 39 saves); Wenatchee, Perry (22 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Wenatchee 2 for 5.