The Kenai River Brown Bears moved into sole possession of first place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with a 4-3 shootout win over the host Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild on Friday and a 3-1 victory over the Wild on Saturday.
The Bears, winners of 11 of their last 12 games and seven in a row, improved to 11-3. The Minnesota Wilderness are one point behind, while the Fairbanks Ice Dogs are two points behind. Wenatchee, at 5-7-2, sits in last place in the division.
The Bears go for the three-game sweep in the always-rollicking Town Toyota Center today at 4:05 p.m. ADT.
With the goalie pulled Friday, Bears defenseman Vince Stefan tied the game at 3 with just 41 seconds remaining to stun the assembled 2,380.
Albin Karlsson, Nathan Colwell and Alec Butcher then scored in the shootout as goalie Zach Quinn improved to 4-0 in shootouts.
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.
“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.
The five-minute major was on Judd Loewenstein for head contact. Wenatchee player Joseph Kaszupski was taken off the ice on a stretcher after the play. Loewenstein was suspended for Saturday’s game and, as of Saturday night, the league was reviewing whether he would be suspended longer.
Beauparlant said it was a bang-bang play and that Loewenstein was not trying to make the injury happen.
“It was an unfortunate play that happened very quickly,” the coach said.
The coach said it was his understanding Kaszupski had a concussion and was taken off on a stretcher as a precautionary measure. The Wenatchee World confirmed Saturday night that Kaszupski had a concussion and is otherwise OK, but the time of his return to the ice is still unknown.
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. After Friday’s game, the Bears were 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.”
Saturday, the Bears rectified their power-play slump, going 2 for 8 with the extra man before a crowd of 2,537.
“We executed a lot better,” Beauparlant said. “We hung around the net, got pucks in there and created more traffic to open up more opportunities to put the puck in the back of the net.”
The Bears’ top line of Butcher, Karlsson and Fuchs had a big night. Butcher had a goal and an assist, Karlsson had three assists and Fuchs added an assist.
Butcher moved back into a tie for the league lead in points with nine goals and 10 assists while Fuchs is tied for 10th in points and Karlsson is tied for 15th.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is the other lines allow them to do that,” Beauparlant said. “They play hard and physical and take pucks to the net. Then that (top) line gets to go against a line that is tired or gets an offensive zone faceoff, and they are able to create.”
Andrews also had a big game with two power-play goals. Beauparlant said Andrews was moved to the front of the net on the power play.
“He can shoot it from the top if we need him to, and he’s a big guy who is very difficult to move,” Beauparlant said. “He is extremely strong.
“He has been used in that role before, and depending who we are playing, he will be used in that role again.”
Butcher gave the Bears a 1-0 lead in the first period when Karlsson drew three defenders and was dragged down, and Butcher collected the puck and scored.
Later in the first, the Bears went up 2-0 when Andrews got a power-play goal after the puck bounced in off his face.
After Powlowski cut it to 2-1 in the second, Andrews scored on a patient backhand for the 3-1 lead.
Quinn, who made 32 saves, shut the door in the third period. Quinn is now 9-2 this season.
Beauparlant said his team was a lot better against the power play Saturday, giving special credit to Steven Butts, Conor Deal and Matt Rudin.
Bears 4, Wild 3, SO
Kenai River 1 1 1 0 1 —4
Wenatchee 0 2 1 0 0 —3
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.
Brown Bears 3, Wild 1
Kenai River 2 1 0 —3
Wenatchee 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Butcher (Karlsson, Andrews), 11:33; 2. Kenai River, Andrews (Fuchs, Karlsson), pp, 15:26. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Wenatchee 4 for 8:00.
Second period — 3. Wenatchee, Powlowski (Nuttle), pp, 7:49; 4. Kenai River, Andrews (Butcher, Karlsson), pp, 10:28. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Wenatchee 3 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-5-7—25; Wenatchee 11-10-12—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (33 shots, 32 saves); Wenatchee, Sawyer (25 shots, 22 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 8; Wenatchee 1 for 9.