The Kenai River Brown Bears again gave the fans their money's worth. They did not give the fans victory.
Ben Kucera scored with 40.9 seconds to play in the game to get the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats a 3-2 win over the Bears on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in front of 863 fans.
It was the sixth one-goal game the Bears have played in seven home contests. The deciding goal has been scored after the five-minute mark of the third period in five of those games.
The Bears had won four straight one-goal, home games coming into Friday, but Kucera's slick wrister sent the home side to its fifth-straight loss overall.
"It was a character win," said Paul Baxter, whose Wildcats lost two lopsided games in Soldotna last season. "Kenai has a very good team. They've proven that so far this year."
The Wildcats improve to 12-6-3 and are in third place in the South Division, while Kenai River is 12-8-0 and in third in the Midwest Division.
Kucera's deciding goal came on a three-on-one. Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said there was improper rotation on the forecheck, perhaps due to desire to get the winning goal.
When Wichita Falls was able to chip the puck around a pinching defenseman, the game-winning rush was on.
"We play an aggressive style, that's how we like to go," Beauparlant said. "We're going to give up situations like that sometimes."
As would be expected for a team on a losing streak coming off a seven-game road trip, the Bears came out firing in the first period, outshooting the Wildcats 18-10.
Just 4 minutes, 2 seconds, into the contest, Nathan Colwell scored on a rebound off of a Jacob Davidson shot for a 1-0 lead.
"Wichita Falls hung in there and weathered the storm," Beauparlant said.
The period ended tied due to a short-handed goal by the Wildcats. Wichita Falls turned a face-off victory into a three-on-two, or Baxter even said it was a four-on-two. Kyle Bauman dumped the puck to Sam Piazza in the slot for the goal.
The lone goal of the second period was the type that only happens on a protracted losing streak.
Alfred Johansson flung the puck at the net from the blue line. There were no Wildcats around the net, but goalie Zach Quinn was screened by one of his own players and the puck found its way into the cage.
"I know that one counts," said a smiling Baxter when asked what he thought of the goal. "If you direct the puck at the net, it has a chance of going in. If you don't put the puck on net, it has no chance of going in."
With 11:05 left in the second, the Wildcats' Kristaps Bazevics took a five-minute major for cross-checking. The Bears could not score on the power play, and Beauparlant said that was a big turning point in the game.
"We may have given up two power-play goals, but I thought our penalty kill was pretty good tonight," said Baxter, whose squad entered the game with the third-best kill in the league.
The second Bears power-play goal came just 38 seconds into the third period. It was similar to the first, with Jack Gessert putting in the rebound off of a Jake Bushey shot.
Beauparlant said those are the types of power-play goals the Bears need to score more often.
"I think sometimes we're still waiting too much for the perfect play," he said.
Chase Munroe had 38 saves for the Wildcats, while Quinn stopped 29 for the Brown Bears.
"We worked hard and for the most part executed what we wanted to do," Beauparlant said. "The only way we are going to get out of this is to keep working hard."
The Bears and Wildcats drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the sports complex.
Wildcats 3, Brown Bears 2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Colwell (Davidson, Karlsson), pp, 4:02; 2. Wichita Falls, Piazza (Bauman), sh, 11:54. Penalties — Wichita Falls 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Wichita Falls, Johansson (Junda, Van Arkel), 7:25. Penalties — Wichita Falls 2 for 7:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Gessert (Bushey, Fuchs), pp, 0:38; 5. Wichita Falls, Kucera (Townsend), 19:20. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Wichita Falls 10-12-10—32; Kenai River 18-8-14—40.
Goalies — Wichita Falls, Chase Munroe (40 shots, 38 saves); Kenai River, Quinn (32 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Wichita Falls 0 for 2; Kenai River 1 for 4.