The Kenai River Brown Bears were swept by the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill on Friday and Saturday in Onalaska.
The Bears lost 2-1 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday to finish up a stretch of six road games in nine days with a 3-3 mark.
Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said his team had a bunch of motivation heading into Saturday’s game to try and end the trip above .500.
“We played hard, we just didn’t do the little things, like blocking shots, chipping the puck to get it deep to create momentum, and taking unnecessary and undisciplined penalties in certain moments,” he said.
The Bears fall to 17-16-3 and remain in fourth place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. Coulee Region, at 21-14-0 is in third place with 42 points.
Trailing Kenai River by just two points in the race for the final playoff slot is the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, which comes to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“We told the players we have to look at the positives,” Beauparlant said. “With six games in nine days, to say we went 3-3 wasn’t bad.
“We really wanted to get that fourth win, but we fell short. We have to get back to work on Monday to prepare for Wenatchee.”
Mac Jansen gave the Chill a 1-0 lead in the first, but Alec Butcher answered, assisted by Sebastian Fuchs and Jake Bushey.
Butcher leads the league with 41 points and was clicking with linemates Fuchs and Albin Karlsson on Saturday.
“They played unselfish hockey and they played together,” Beauparlant said. “It’s probably the best game they played since they’ve been back together.”
Jack Gessert, assisted by Judd Loewenstein, gave the Bears a 2-1 lead with 16:47 left in the second, but Adam Lovick and Jesse Tredinnick scored to put Coulee Region up 3-2.
With just 21 seconds left in the second, Fuchs assisted by Butcher and Karlsson, tied the game.
A goal like that tends to swing momentum, but not Saturday. In the first four minutes of the third period, Brett Bukowski and James McGing staked the Chill to a 5-3 lead.
“I thought (assistant) coach (Steve) Murphy said it correctly when he said he couldn’t believe how flat we came out in the third period after scoring the game-tying goal with less than a minute left in the second period,” Beauparlant said.
Beauparlant said taking two penalties with less than 10 minutes left hurt the comeback bid. Fuchs scored a power-play goal, assisted by Matt Rudin and Gessert, with 3:24 to play, but time ran out.
Entering Friday, Kenai River was on a three-game win streak but failed to continue the momentum, even while outshooting the Chill 39-30.
“I thought we came out with some good jump and really controlled about the first six or seven minutes of the game,” Beauparlant said. “They’re a resilient team that worked hard and pushed back.”
The Bears topped Coulee Region in two games in early October, but the Chill struck first on Friday with a power-play goal by Andy Faust midway through the first period, and added to the total in the second period when Dunk Abbott beat Kenai River goalie Zach Quinn, putting the Chill up 2-0.
The first goal came on a two-on-two rush, but Kenai River was caught looking the wrong way when Faust found a hole in the defense and put it away.
“We got caught with our hand in the cookie jar,” Beauparlant said. “We were just trying to score underhanded and it cost us.”
It only took 1 minute, 36 seconds, for the Bears to respond, when Loewenstein and Rudin were able to set up Eric Purcell for the goal that allowed Kenai River to close back to within one. Gessert sent the puck across the rink to Loewenstein, who put a shot on net, and Purcell caught the rebound to score.
“It was a good momentum swing for us,” Beauparlant said. “A couple times in the third we hit the post, we had two power-play chances but nothing worked.”
In the third period, the Bears outshot the Chill 12-9, but each chance was turned away by Blake Cates, who saved 38 of 39 shots Kenai River sent his way.
Quinn saved 28 of 30 shots on goal for Kenai River.
Chill 2, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
Coulee Region 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Coulee Region, Faust (Rafferty, Kelley), pp, 9:55. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 14:00; Coulee Region 5 for 18:00.
Second period — 2. Coulee Region, Abbott (Wells, Kelley), 11:41; 3. Kenai River, Purcell (Loewenstein, Rudin), 13:17. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Coulee Region 2 for 4:00.
Third period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 18:00; Coulee Region 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-16-12—39; Coulee Region 7-14-9—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (30 shots, 28 saves); Coulee Region, Cates (39 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Coulee Region 1 for 4.
Chill 5, Brown Bears 4
Kenai River 1 2 1 —4
Coulee Region 1 2 2 —5
First period — 1. Coulee Region, Jansen (Faust, Carney), 2:43; 2. Kenai River, Butcher (Fuchs, Bushey), 14:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Coulee Region 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Gessert (Loewenstein), 3:13; 4. Coulee Region, Lovick (Zehnal), pp, 11:25; 5. Coulee Region, Tredinnick (Zehnal), 15:56; 6. Kenai River, Fuchs (Butcher, Karlsson), 19:39. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Coulee Region, Bukowski (Faust, Jansen), 0:56; 8. Coulee Region, McGing (Abbott, Jansen), 3:45; 9. Kenai River, Fuchs (Rudin, Gessert), pp, 16:36. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Coulee Region 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 14-10-9—33; Coulee Region 9-14-17—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Oldham (40 shots, 35 saves); Coulee Region, Cats (33 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 5; Coulee Region 1 for 5.