The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wilderness on Saturday in Cloquet, Minn., in front of 403 fans.
The Bears improve to 15-14-3 and move into a tie for fourth place in the Midwest Division. The Wilderness fall to 18-7-5 and remain in second.
Kris Oldham had the 33-save shutout for the Brown Bears. It is Oldham’s first North American Hockey League shutout and the second shutout for the Bears this season.
The Wilderness also were shut out for just the second time this season, and suffered their second-worst loss of the season.
“He was playing confident,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said of Oldham. “He played big in the net and controlled his rebounds extremely well.
“He really battled and competed, and that’s what we’ve been looking for from him. That’s what he’s been doing in practice, so it doesn’t surprise us he earned the shutout tonight.”
Beauparlant was just as quick to give credit to the team in front of Oldham for the shutout. The Bears lost 2-0 to the Wilderness on Friday, but Beauparlant said the defensemen had their best series so far this season.
“The team definitely did a good job in front of him tying up sticks, having good sticks to block shots, and paying the price to keep the shutout,” Beauparlant said.
With Kenai River up 3-0, Alec Butcher took a five-minute major in the third period. Minnesota even pulled its goalie during the power play, but could not score.
Judd Loewenstein opened the scoring in the first period on assists from Jack Gessert and Matt Rudin. It was the first goal of the season for Loewenstein, who got a puck from down low and worked to find an angle where the shot would not be blocked.
The Rudin-Gessert-Zack Zulkanycz line also was on the ice for the second goal, when Rudin found Zulkanycz in front of the net for the score.
With 3 minutes, 39 seconds, left in the second period, Kenai River went up 3-0 on a power-play goal by Frankie Spellman, assisted by Tommy Dierl and Steven Butts. Beauparlant said Spellman’s shot was a laser off the post.
It was just the fourth power-play goal against Minnesota this season, which has the top penalty kill in the league. The Bears have two of the four power-play goals scored against the Wilderness.
Frank Oplinger made 19 saves for the Wilderness. Kasimir Kaskisuo, the league’s top goaltender, was out for the Wilderness due to an undisclosed injury, according to Beauparlant.
The Bears opened up the second half of their season with a 2-0 loss on Friday in front of 412 fans.
After the Friday game, the Wilderness had allowed just 48 goals in 29 games, by far the stingiest mark in the league. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs were next at 64.
The Bears were shut out by the Wilderness for the second straight time, following a 2-0 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 23.
“The biggest story is we didn’t capitalize on our chances,” Beauparlant said. “That’s really the bottom line.”
The coach said his squad had four two-on-ones and three three-on-twos, but failed to beat Kaskisuo, who is 15-5-4 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
Beauparlant said his squad showed the effects of the holiday break for about 10 minutes, but after that played well.
Minnesota struck first in the second period when Jakob Romo scored on an assist from Ivan Chukarov.
Beauparlant said Kenai River had two defensemen try to change at once and could not recover.
Romo, who was traded to Minnesota from the Ice Dogs before this season, was actually recruited to come to Fairbanks by Beauparlant, who was then a Fairbanks assistant. Romo leads the Wilderness with 20 points.
“It’s one of those situations where he is motivated,” Beauparlant said. “I don’t think he wanted to be traded. He’s motivated to show he is a good hockey player, which we always thought he would be.”
In the third period, Eric Brenk scored on the power play when the puck deflected off a Brown Bears player and into the net.
Beauparlant said it was a tough bounce, but not the cause of defeat.
“We have to score a goal for that one to even matter, in our minds,” he said.
Zach Quinn made 34 saves for the Bears, while Kaskisuo had 20 for Minnesota.
“Both teams did a good job keeping pucks to the outside and not giving up quality chances,” Beauparlant said. “Quinn gave another great effort. He’s been a rock for us.”
The coach said all the defensemen played well, particularly Loewenstein, Vince Stefan and Jake Davidson.
Beauparlant said Zulkanycz also brought a lot of energy.
“We’ve got to get some production up front in order to compete with the top teams in the league,” Beauparlant said. “When you only give up one or two goals, you expect to win hockey games.
“You can’t expect your goaltender to hold teams to zero to one.”
The Bears are in the midst of a stretch of six road games in nine days. Tuesday and Wednesday, they play the Minot (N.D.) Minotauros, before playing the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill on Friday and Saturday.
Wilderness 2, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Minnesota 0 1 1 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Minnesota, Romo (Chukarov), 6:22. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 2. Minnesota, Brenk (Leabo, May), pp, 3:35. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-10-6—20; Minnesota 11-11-14—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (36 shots, 34 saves); Minnesota, Kaskisuo (20 shots, 20 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Minnesota 1 for 6.
Brown Bears 3, Wilderness 0
Kenai River 1 2 0 —3
Minnesota 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Kenai River, Loewenstein (Gessert, Rudin), 15:52. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 12:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Rudin, Davidson), 6:07; 3. Kenai River, Spellman (Dierl, Butts), pp, 16:21. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 3 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 5:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-7-2—22; Minnesota 7-12-14—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Oldham (33 shots, 33 saves); Minnesota, Oplinger (22 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7; Minnesota 0 for 4.