The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a four-game losing streak with a two-game sweep of the host Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays on Friday and Saturday.
The Bears won 4-0 on Friday in front of 3,912 and 3-1 on Saturday in front of 4,324.
The sweep left the Bears (26-21-7) in fifth place and one point out of a playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
Kenai River has 59 points and six games left, the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill have 60 points and eight games left, and the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild have 62 points and four games left.
“This is such a good hockey league,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “It’s fun to be part of and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Of course, it’d be nice to be able to have more wins, but this is what brings teams together — competing night in and night out.”
On Friday, Zach Quinn had 34 saves for his third shutout of the year, while Sebastian Fuchs had his fourth three-point game of the season.
“I thought we played a pretty complete game,” Beauparlant said. “We did the little things we needed to do from the goaltending on out to secure two points.”
After beating Fairbanks 3-2 on Feb. 21, the Bears were outscored 17-4 in their next three games — one against Fairbanks and two against Wenatchee (Wash.).
Beauparlant said the team started to come around in a 4-3 overtime loss at Wenatchee on March 2, then had good practices this week.
The Bears were outshot 12-4 in the first period Friday, taking three penalties to none for the IceRays.
Kenai River was 7 for 17 on the penalty kill in the Wenatchee series, but rebounded by making Corpus Christi go 0 for 6 on Friday and 0 for 5 on Saturday.
“We did a good job securing pucks and clearing them out of the zone when we had the opportunity,” Beauparlant said. “We limited the second opportunities for Corpus.”
Tyler Andrews, on assists from Fuchs and Karlsson, started the scoring 10 minutes, 8 seconds, into the first period.
It started a big night for the Fuchs-Karlsson-Alec Butcher line. Two of the linemates were in on three of four goals.
“They were finding each other and didn’t play individual hockey,” Beauparlant said. “When that line works together with the defensemen, when any of our lines work together with the defensemen, we are a solid hockey team.”
The lone goal of the second period came with just 1:37 left, when Jacob Davidson pinched up the boards and found Vincent Stefan in a soft spot.
“That was big because it got us up two goals going into the third period,” Beauparlant said.
In the third, Frankie Spellman scored on assists from Fuchs and Butcher, and Fuchs had a power-play tally on assists from Butcher and Austin Chavez.
Beauparlant said Spellman and RJ Salvato were solid in five-on-five and on the penalty kill. Each had a short-handed breakaway.
“Each missed the net, but that’s good because they are working on buying into what we need to do,” Beauparlant said.
On Saturday, the Bears scored three unanswered goals and goalie Kris Oldham shut the door in the final two periods for the victory.
Lucas McDiarmid got the IceRays on the board with 1:59 to play, but Oldham, just 16, would keep a clean sheet the rest of the way, finishing with 27 saves.
“It’s very impressive,” Beauparlant said. “He’s calm under pressure and he thrives in this type of atmosphere.
“That’s the mark of a solid goaltender with a bright future in front of him. He’d be the first to say it was a total team effort.”
In the second, Spellman tied the game with a power-play goal on assists from Gustav Berglund and Karlsson.
Karlsson made a nice play to Berglund, who put a shot on net. Spellman redirected it into the net.
With 11:30 left in the game, Jacob Wolter gave the Bears a 2-1 lead on assists from Spellman and Conor Deal.
Beauparlant said Spellman went inside-out, then found Wolter on the back post on a pretty play.
Then Alec Butcher made it 3-1 with 3:21 to play on assists from Fuchs and Karlsson.
“We didn’t want to take our foot off the gas,” Beauparlant said. “A lot of teams would sit back and play a defensive style, but that’s not who we are as an organization and a hockey club. We were gonna go for it.
“Again, it was our big line. It was tic-tac-toe. It was nice to watch.”
The Bears stay in Texas to play Wichita Falls on Friday and Saturday at 4:05 p.m. AST.
“We’re focused on the next game,” Beauparlant said. “That’s all we can control. We’re trying to get two points every time we step on the ice.”
Brown Bears 4, IceRays 0
Kenai River 1 1 2 —4
Corpus Christi 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Kenai River, Andrews (Fuchs, Karlsson), 10:08. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Stefan (Davidson), 18:23. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Corpus Christi 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Spellman (Fuchs, Butcher), 4:50; 4. Kenai River, Fuchs (Butcher, Chavez), pp, 8:47. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Corpus Christi 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-9-15—28; Corpus Christi 12-10-12—34.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (34 shots, 34 saves); Corpus Christi, Myers (28 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Corpus Christi 0 for 6.
Brown Bears 3, IceRays 1
Kenai River 0 1 2 —3
Corpus Christi 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Corpus Christi, McDiarmid (Roisum, Ville), 18:01. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Corpus Christi 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Spellman (Berglund, Karlsson), pp, 0:29. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Corpus Christi 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Wolter (Spellman, Deal), 8:30; 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Fuchs, Karlsson), 16:39. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 19:00; Corpus Christi 3 for 17:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-7-8—27; Corpus Christi 13-6-9—28.
Goalies — Kenai River, Oldham (28 shots, 27 saves); Corpus Christi, Ploszaj (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Corpus Christi 0 for 5.