The strange odyssey of the return of Minnesota Wilderness coach Corey Millen to Alaska continues.
Millen, a former assistant and head coach of the now-defunct North American Hockey League outfit in the Valley, picked up his first win on the Alaska trip by topping the Kenai River Brown Bears 5-4 in a shootout Friday.
The Wilderness came from a goal down three times, including twice in the third period, to win in front of 700 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
A lot of bad odd things have happened to the Wilderness in Alaska, where Millen’s wife and daughter still live.
“We’ve had storms and power outages in both cities,” Millen said of Fairbanks and Soldotna.
In Fairbanks, Minnesota lost two — one in a shootout and another when two pucks bounced in off bodies.
The Wilderness lost 2-1 to Kenai River on Thursday, and things didn’t look much better Friday when Minnesota gave up its first power-play goal in its 88th penalty kill of the season, and gave up four goals in a game for the first time this season.
In the shootout, though, Thomas Lindstrom, Johno May, Michael Covach and Jakob Romo all scored to give the Wilderness their first shootout victory in five tries.
“One went their way in the end,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “It’s amazing how the hockey gods work.
“It’s the same old story — two good hockey teams competing hard for 60 minutes.”
Eight of Kenai River’s nine home contests have now been decided by a goal.
Minnesota’s Darian Romanko had the lone goal of the first period as the Bears were officially outshot 12-5.
“We actually had us with only four shots,” Beauparlant said. “We told them between periods that that was not going to get it done.”
The Bears responded by outshooting the Wilderness 17-7 in the second period. Beauparlant said a big factor was cutting down on turnovers.
With 6:27 left in the period, Conor Deal won a faceoff and Eric Purcell dumped the puck to Vince Stefan in the corner. Stefan centered the puck and it bounced off a defender and into the net for his second goal in two games.
Stefan, who had to rehab a broken ankle in the offseason, was a healthy scratch Nov. 16, and Beauparlant said he has responded.
“He’s had a tough road back,” Beauparlant said. “He’s really worked on his all-around play, his physical play and his confidence with the puck.
“He’s getting pretty close to last year’s form.”
With 5:45 left in the second, Jack Gessert found Purcell in the slot for a power-play goal.
It was Purcell’s first goal for the Bears in his sixth game with the club. He also had an assist and fight for the Gordie Howe hat trick.
“That was the best game he has had for us,” Beauparlant said.
But Lindstrom, the No. 1 pick of the Bears in this year’s draft who was traded away, tied the game with 33 seconds left in the second when his shot from the faceoff circle beat Kris Oldham.
With 9:39 left in the third, Matt Rudin got a pass from Butcher, who had three assists, and patiently slid across the goal mouth and scored.
“That line is going really good right now,” Beauparlant said of Rudin, Gessert and Butcher.
But Jakob Romo tied the game with 6:42 left when he picked the puck out of a scrum on the boards and rode in alone on Oldham.
With 2:39 to play, just after a power play expired, Butcher threw the puck into a crowd in front of the net and Gessert somehow put it in for a 4-3 lead.
“Obviously, it’s good anytime you can come back and respond,” Millen said. “At the same time, I didn’t like going down every time.
“They got some momentum in the second period from their power play.”
With just 51 seconds left, Romanko centered the puck. The rubber ended up hitting the pipe and rolling in off Oldham.
The play was blown dead because the referee lost sight of the puck, but the ref ruled the puck was already in the net at the time of the whistle.
Beauparlant wasn’t happy with the call, but blamed the Bears for putting themselves in that situation.
“We played strong in the second and third periods only to give up goals in the final minute of the period,” Beauparlant said. “We can’t do that and expect to beat good teams.”
In the shootout, Jake Davidson was the only one of three Bears shooters to solve Frank Oplinger, who made 34 saves. Oldham had 29.
Wilderness 5, Brown Bears 4, SO
Minnesota 1 1 2 0 1 —5
Kenai River 0 2 2 0 0 —4
First period — 1. Minnesota, Romanko (Romo), 3:20. Penalties — Minnesota 4 for 14:00; Kenai River 4 for 14:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Stefan (Deal, Purcell), 13:33; 3. Kenai River, Purcell (Gessert, Butcher), pp, 14:15; 4. Minnesota, Lindstrom (Hiekkila, Leabo), 19:27. Penalties — Minnesota 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Rudin (Butcher, Gessert), 10:21; 6. Minnesota, Romo (Kessler, Romanko), 13:18; 7. Kenai River, Gessert (Butcher, Lowewenstein), 17:21; 8. Minnesota, Romanko (Romo, Leabo), 19:09. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Minnesota 4 (Lindstrom G, May G, Covach G, Romo G); Kenai River 1 (Davidson G, Fuchs NG, Karlsson NG).
Shots on goal — Minnesota 12-7-13-1—33; Kenai River 5-17-14-2—38.
Goalies — Minnesota, Oplinger (38 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Oldham (33 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Minnesota 0 for 3; Kenai River 1 for 5.