The Kenai River Brown Bears ride into the new year on a three-game winning streak.
The Brown Bears swept the host Minot (N.D.) Minotauros on Tuesday and Wednesday for their first three-game winning streak since Oct. 25 through 27.
The Brown Bears move to 17-14-3 and are in sole possession of fourth place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The Bears trail the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill by a point, and travel to the Chill for games Friday and Saturday.
Minot, of the Central Division, falls to 14-18-3.
Wednesday in front of 787, the Bears notched a 4-3 victory.
Kenai River outshot Minot 12-4 in the first period and was rewarded with 11 seconds left in the period, when Albin Karlsson scored on assists from Vincent Stefan and Tyler Andrews.
“I thought we came out with good jump,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Other than the first shift, when we were a little on our heels, we got it going after that.
“We played the way we are capable of playing, with all four lines and six D. It was fun to watch.”
On the first-period goal, Karlsson dug out a puck that was bouncing around the slot. Beauparlant said assistant Scott Johnson was working with the line of Karlsson, Sebastian Fuchs and Alec Butcher on getting into the tougher areas of the ice, and that’s what the line did well Wednesday.
Minot stormed back in the first 10 minutes of the second period, with Jadin Martin, Max Pernhem and Jake McCann scoring for a 3-1 lead.
“I think we came out a little content,” Beauparlant said. “Give Minot credit. They took it to us.”
Just five seconds after McCann’s goal made it 3-1, Kenai River’s Tyler Andrews was put in the box for head contact.
“We called timeout right after the third goal, and responded by taking a penalty,” Beauparlant said.
But Conor Deal swung the momentum back to Kenai River with a short-handed goal, assisted by Steven Butts, just 24 seconds into the power play. Beauparlant said Butts created a turnover on the breakout and fed to Deal for a one-timer.
“That short-handed goal was a huge momentum swing,” Beauparlant said.
Jacob Davidson, on assists from Frankie Spellman and Butts, tied the game with 5:08 left in the second period. Beauparlant said the shot hit a defenseman’s shinguard and eluded the goalie’s glove.
Alec Butcher scored the game-winner with 7:53 remaining on the Bears’ lone power play of the night. He was assisted by Sebastian Fuchs and Jack Gessert.
Butcher still leads the NAHL in scoring, bumping his total to 14 goals and 25 assists.
“Big-time players score big-time goals,” Beauparlant said.
Kris Oldham made 25 saves for the win. The Bears were outshot 10-2 in the final period and had to kill off a penalty with just 3:35 to play.
“He shut the door,” Beauparlant said. “That’s good for him because he has had trouble closing out tight games, but he did a great job tonight.”
Merrick Madsen had 22 saves for the Minotauros.
Beauparlant said Austin Chavez had a great game on defense, playing physical and moving the puck cleanly.
Tuesday in front of 1,187, the Bears scored three times on the power play to notch a 3-2 victory.
The Bears trailed 2-1 entering the final period, but outshot Minot 13-4 in the final 20 minutes to dampen the New Year’s Eve celebration in North Dakota.
“Our power play was good tonight,” Beauparlant said. “We were able to move the puck, get traffic in front of the net and bury some pucks.
“We found our legs in the third period and that gave us the push we needed to win.”
The power play played a big role in the game, with Kenai River going 3 for 8 and Minot 1 for 7 on the man advantage.
“It’s always good to win on the road no matter what team we are playing against,” Beauparlant said. “We just want to make sure we build off each game, whether it is a win or a loss.”
Beauparlant said his squad came out a little sluggish, and Tim Donohue scored a power-play goal with 9:37 left in the first period for a 1-0 Minot lead.
“Zach Quinn held us in with big saves early,” Beauparlant said of his goalie, who saved 30 shots.
Just 16 seconds into the second period, Butcher tied the game, working a two-on-one with Gessert.
With 16:07 left in the second, Minot retook the lead on a goal by Jake McCann.
Beauparlant said both goals came on miscommunications off of faceoffs.
With 16:20 left in the game, Butcher fed Gessert in front of the net for the power-play equalizer.
With 4:42 left in the game, Spellman notched the game-winner, tipping a Davidson shot, then slamming home the rebound.
Beauparlant said the defense continues to be solid.
“We were moving the puck cleanly and blocking shots when we needed to,” the coach said. “Our D corps, as well as Quinn, shut the door.”
Two new Brown Bears played a role in the win. Affiliate player Marc Johnstone and new acquisition Jacob Wolter teamed on a line with Spellman to provide some energy late in the second period.
Wolter was acquired in a trade for Sam Bratten with the Helena (Mont.) Bighorns of the Tier III American West Hockey League.
Jacob is from Fairbanks and is the twin brother of Ice Dogs forward Colton.
“We wish Sam well,” Beauparlant said. “We know he will be part of a team with a chance at a national championship.”
Kenai River 0 1 2 —3
Minot 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Minot, Donohue (Lizotte, Dornbrock), pp, 10:23. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Minot 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Butcher (Gessert, Fuchs), pp, 0:16; 3. Minot, McCann (Dornbrock, Lizotte), 3:53. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Minot 4 for 16:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Gessert (Butcher, Andrews), pp, 3:40; 5. Kenai River, Spellman (Davidson, Stefan), pp, 15:18. Penalties — Minot 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-10-13—32; Minot 14-14-4—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (32 shots, 30 saves); Minot, Wildung (32 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 3 for 8; Minot 1 for 7.
Brown Bears 4, Minotauros 3
Kenai River 1 2 1 —4
Minot 0 3 0 —3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Karlsson (Stefan, Andrews), 19:49. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Minot, Martin (Lizotte), 3:28; 3. Minot, Pernhem (Nagy), pp, 5:24; 4. Minot, McCann (Shipstad), 9:49; 5. Kenai River, Deal (Butts), sh, 10:18; 6. Kenai River, Davidson (Spellman, Butts), 14:52. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Butcher (Fuchs, Gessert), pp, 12:07. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 12:00; Minot 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-12-2—26; Minot 4-14-10—28.
Goalies — Kenai River, Oldham (28 shots, 25 saves); Minot, Madsen (26 shots, 22 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 1; Minot 1 for 4.