A sterling defensive effort by the Kenai River Brown Bears sealed a 3-1 win over the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild on Thursday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Bears goalie Zach Quinn held off a slew of attacks by Wenatchee all game long, getting the win by saving 48 of 49 shots, and teammates Jacob Wolter, Alec Butcher and Tyler Andrews scored a goal in each of the three periods to improve the Bears record to 18-16-3.
The victory distanced Kenai River from Wenatchee in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division standings. Entering the day, the Bears held fourth place and the final postseason spot in the division with 37 points, while Wenatchee sat in fifth with 35 points and a 16-15-3 record. A win would have tied the two teams up, but now the best the Wild can accomplish after the weekend is a tie.
“(Quinn) has just been competing since day one,” said Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant. “He’s really taken a number one role on our team and plays with pride. He plays hard for our guys. I couldn’t be prouder of how he’s been playing, win or lose, he’s just been solid for us back there.”
The Wild managed to direct puck after puck at Quinn during the game, but many shots were either taken in haste or went wide without a secondary wingman to push it back in.
“I’m just thinking we got to keep playing and keep playing defense,” Quinn said about the effort. “The defense was awesome in this game. When everyone comes together we’re a solid squad.”
Heading into the third period, the Bears held a 2-0 lead and Quinn was working to maintain a shutout. However, after nearly 45 minutes of scoreless play, Wenatchee finally slipped the puck past him and closed to within a goal.
“I believe it was a shot from the side that went around the net, and it was a shot from the post,” Quinn said. “I don’t know, someone shot it out, and I went to block it with my stick and the guy was there, and I was in the butterfly and it went in.”
Up to that point, Quinn faced 38 shots and deflected them all. Overall in the game, the Wild outshot the Bears 49-27.
“I thought we had a good week of practice and preparation,” Beauparlant said. “I said to the guys, we got to make sure we refocus and get better and come back for tomorrow night.”
Midway through the first period, Wolter — a recent acquisition — became the first to light the lamp when he converted a close-range shot on net past Wenatchee goaltender Gustaf Johansson. Johansson played for Kenai River last year.
Only 35 seconds into the second period, Nathan Colwell and Alec Butcher broke out on a two-on-one rush, which ended with Colwell lifting a nifty assist to Butcher at the left wing to add a second goal.
The Wild increased their pressure, outshooting the Bears 16-5 in the third period but only coming up with the single goal by Troy Loggins. Ironically, it was Loggins who was sent to the penalty box with 8:30 remaining for a slashing violation, only to watch the Bears’ Tyler Andrews score an insurance goal on the resulting power play only two seconds later.
“We talked about how to close out games and I thought we did a good job of that tonight,” Beauparlant said. “We were willing to block shots, we were willing to chip pucks out and get pucks in deep when we needed to, and obviously Quinn stood on his head and made saves when he needed to. But the power-play goal was huge, and that’s what it’s there for.”
The two squads will meet twice more this weekend for 7:30 p.m. games tonight and Saturday night at the Sports Complex to complete a three-game series.
Brown Bears 3, Wild 1
Kenai River 1 1 1 —3
Wenatchee 0 0 1 —1
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Wolter (Andrews, Loewenstein), 11:54. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 2. Kenai River, Butcher (Karlsson, Colwell), :35. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
3rd period — 3. Wenatchee, Loggins (Gumerov, Mullan), 4:40; 4. Kenai River, Andrews (Butcher, Colwell), pp, 11:32. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-9-5—27; Wenatchee 16-17-16—49.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (49 shots, 48 saves); Wenatchee, Johansson (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Wenatchee 0 for 3.