The Kenai River Brown Bears are finally off of a six-game losing skid, and they managed to break the slump with a win against one of the toughest teams in the North American Hockey League.
The Bears picked up a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wilderness on Thursday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, putting them back on their winning ways.
Albin Karlsson scored the game-winner late in the second period, breaking out on a two-on-one advantage with Alec Butcher.
“We had a quote on the wall that says, ‘You have to learn how to lose before you can win,’ and we learned how to lose, and now we can hopefully start winning a lot,” Butcher said.
Kenai River (13-8-1) retained their third-place spot in the Midwest division with 27 points, but closed up to within a point of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (14-7), who hold 28 points. Minnesota (14-4-4) still leads with 32.
Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said it was good to see his squad rewarded for their efforts.
“I said to the guys that we may have deserved it earlier, but the lessons learned for the past few weeks will serve us well in the long run,” Beauparlant said. “I thought we played a complete game tonight and that was the difference.”
Kenai River goalie Kris Oldham got the win, saving 27 of 28 shots on Thursday. His counterpart across the rink, Kasimir Kaskisuo, saved 35 of 37 shots.
After a Jakob Romo slapshot secured Minnesota’s first goal on a power play with 2 minutes, 7 seconds, remaining in the first period, Kenai River answered back with a tying shot from Vincent Stefan only 1:20 later. Stefan managed to get a shot in amidst a scrum directly in front of the net.
“We entered the zone all right, and I thought Nathan Colwell made a special play off the wall to be able to pick the puck and explode to the middle of the ice,” Beauparlant said. “We worked on getting pucks to the net, and getting bodies there with sticks ready to score, and Vinny was there to put it in.”
Since scoring on the stingy Wilderness is a daunting task by itself, the goal appeared to be the wakeup shot for the Bears in the second period. Minnesota struggled to find control of the puck, getting outshot 15-8 by Kenai River in the period.
With 5:57 left in the second, Alec Butcher found the puck deep in Bears territory, and broke out with Albin Karlsson on a two-on-one man advantage. Butcher shoveled the puck to Karlsson, who winged it right back to Butcher, who then passed it back once more and Karlsson fired on Minnesota goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo for a 2-1 lead.
“I made a nice pass over to (Karlsson) and he buried it on his breakaway,” Butcher said.
Minnesota coach Corey Millen said his disappointment came with his team’s inability to finish off shots and scoring opportunities.
“We didn’t come with an effort,” Millen said. “They outworked us, they outbattled us.”
After taking the lead, the Bears had to fend off the Wilderness for the final 20 minutes of the third period, and Kenai River managed the game well, making use of a couple power-play opportunities, including a five-on-three man advantage early in the third that lasted for 1:40.
“It seems to be a little bit strange, but I don’t know, what can you do?” Millen said about the penalty minutes his team suffered. “Stay out of the penalty box, I guess.”
Overall in the third period, Minnesota was handed 10 minutes of penalties, while Kenai River only had two minutes.
“We had a couple chances, and just give them credit,” Beauparlant said. “They do a good job of killing penalties, and they know their angles, and it’s our job to figure out how to do that in the next two games.”
Minnesota will get an opportunity on Friday to even the series against the Brown Bears when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex. The two teams will face off again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“I think we worry now about (Friday) night, we’ll view the video tonight and see if there’s any adjustments to be made,” Beauparlant said. “There always are, and I’m sure they’re going to do the same. It’s a little bit of a chess match in that regard, but at the same time, the bottom line is players have to execute.”
Brown Bears 2, Wilderness 1
Minnesota 1 0 0 —1
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Minnesota, Romo (Leabo, Covach), pp, 17:52; 2. Kenai River, Stefan (Fuchs, Colwell), 19:13. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Karlsson (Butcher), 14:03. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Minnesota 10-8-10—28; Kenai River 11-15-11—37.
Goalies — Minnesota, Kaskisuo (37 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Oldham (28 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Minnesota 1 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 7.