The Minnesota Wilderness took a 2-0 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Saturday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in an aggressive game that saw seven total players ejected.
The Wilderness (16-4-4) extended their points tally in the North American Hockey League Midwest division to 36, four ahead of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (16-7). Kenai River (13-9-2) remains in third place in the division with 28 points, only two ahead of the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill.
Six players were tossed out with five minutes remaining when a fight broke out immediately following a faceoff in the neutral zone, leading to gloves thrown to the ice and players venting their frustrations in the final minutes of a three-game series. Minnesota won the weekend with two wins on Friday and Saturday.
“I thought we competed hard the entire game, but we just didn’t capitalize on our chances,” said Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant. “Their goaltender played well. We had our power plays and our opportunities, I thought we moved the puck well and were physical.”
The ultimate game-winner for Minnesota came 5 minutes, 58 seconds into the second period, when Terry Leabo scored on a power play that was brought on by an ejection of Bears defenseman Gustav Berglund, who was thrown out for fighting. The goal came 1:55 into the five-minute power play period.
“He was high-sticked twice, and you can only take so much as a player,” Beauparlant said. “We watched the video and the ref said he didn’t see anything, but it was pretty clear he was cross-checked into the mouth and high-sticked in the ear.”
After two periods of play, the Bears had outshot the Wilderness 27-22, but in the final period, Minnesota stepped up their game to outshoot the Bears 12-8, and only 3:31 into the period, Darian Romanko managed to slip the puck up and over the left shoulder of Bears goalie Zach Quinn for a second goal. Quinn ended the night saving 32 of 34 shots.
Beauparlant had no reservations about his players getting into scuffles on the ice.
“I think when you play three games in three nights, things like that will happen,” he said. “When you get hit in the head so many times, guys are going to stick up for their teammates.”
While Minnesota’s point tally is the second-highest in the league, Beauparlant said he believes his squad outperformed a Minnesota team whose record may not accurately reflect their current standing.
“I think we’re the better team, I don’t think they’re a very good hockey club at all,” Beauparlant said. “They work extremely hard and that’s good, but I don’t think they’re any good.
“They’re first place in the division but I think they get away with a lot of stuff, and all they do whine and complain about everything that goes on on the ice.”
The Brown Bears will face the Ice Dogs next weekend on Friday and Saturday, with both games starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Wilderness 2, Brown Bears 0
Minnesota 0 1 1 —2
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
First period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Second period — 1. Minnesota, Leabo (Forbort, Tiffels), pp, 5:58. Penalties — Minnesota 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 4 for 27:00.
Third period — 2. Minnesota, Romanko (Chukarov, May), 3:31. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 7:00; Kenai River 6 for 26:00.
Shots on goal — Minnesota 9-13-12—34; Kenai River 13-14-8—35.
Goalies — Minnesota, Kaskisuo (35 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Quinn (34 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Minnesota 1 for 5; Kenai River 0 for 3.