The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating the host Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks 5-1 on Saturday in North American Hockey League action in front of 2,094 fans.
Friday, the Tomahawks had notched a 3-0 victory over Kenai River in front of 1,552.
The five-goal Saturday outburst came after the Bears had scored a total of one goal in their previous two games.
“We challenged the forwards as a coaching staff to compete harder and shoot the puck,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “They rose to the challenge.”
The Bears improved to 8-22-2-0, but are still in last place in the Midwest Division, seven points behind the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Johnstown is 22-8-1-1 and in the second position in the East Division.
The rubber match in the series will be today at 11 a.m. AST. Kenai River then stays in Pennsylvania to play the Aston Rebels on Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. AST.
Saturday, the Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period and a 4-0 lead overall.
“The whole group of forwards, as a unit, did a great job,” Worlton said. “It was one of the better games they had played in a long time.”
Just 5 minutes, 10 seconds, into the game, Jonathan Marzec scored on an assist from Anthony Tzveyn.
Then, at the 11:29 mark, Tyler Rock connected on the power play with help from Marzec.
Shayne Monahan closed the period with a strike on assists from Evan Butcher and Lucas Carroll.
Just nine seconds into the second period, it was 4-0 after Butcher lit the lamp with help from Rock and Carroll.
The defense also pitched in, as Worlton said Johnstown had just 10 or 12 shots at the midway point of the second period.
Johnstown made it 4-1 late in the second, but Ryan Mezera, assisted by Ethan Stewart, clinched the game with an empty-netter with 51 seconds left in the game.
Robbie Goor had 27 saves for the Bears. For the Tomahawks, Drew Hotte lasted until the fourth goal of the game, making just six saves. Vinnie Purpura came on to face all 12 shots he faced.
“The D zone coverage was excellent and it was all backstopped by Robbie Goor,” Worlton said.
In early October, the Tomahawks swept a three-game series from the Bears with a total score of 16-5. Worlton said the Bears showed Saturday how much they have improved.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Worlton said. “We’re making strides and getting better. The key is consistency. We have to be consistent in getting better every day.”
Friday, special teams proved costly for the Bears.
The Tomahawks scored power-play goals in the first and second periods and an empty-net goal in the third period to send the Bears to their fourth straight loss.
“I thought we played well, we just weren’t able to get any scoring,” Worlton said. “Our power play was not effective.
“It looks like we’re fighting to put the puck in the net.”
In the first period, the Bears gave up a goal fighting off a five-minute major.
“I thought five-on-five we played them straight up,” Worlton said. “It was a good game.
“Our defense played really well, we had good sticks, blocked shots and goaltender Robbie Goor made saves when he had to.
“Our offense is killing us right now.”
Kenai River had just one goal in its previous loss.
“We’re doing a good job cycling the puck, we just have to get it off the wall and get to the net in traffic,” Worlton said. “We have to bear down and pay the price to put the puck in the net.”
Goor had 26 saves for the Bears, while Drew Hotte stopped all 20 for Johnstown.
The Bears have traded Sviataslau Kuchynski to a Tier III team.
Defenseman Connor Fedorek has joined the team. Fedorek has a 1999 birthdate, meaning he can play three more years of junior hockey after this season.
Worlton said Fedorek has played well so far and the team is glad to have him.
Bears notes: Former Brown Bears player Alex Jackstadt had two goals in a 29-second stretch to lead the University of Alaska Anchorage to a 4-1 victory over Ferris State of Michigan on Friday. It was the first two-point game of the sophomore’s collegiate career.
Tomahawks 3, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Johnstown 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Johnstown, Ott (Buncis, Quetell), pp, 10:38. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 30:00; Johnstown 2 for 12:00.
Second period — 2. Johnstown, Bokun (Solensky, Horn), pp, 15:29. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Johnstown 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Johnstown, Stork (un.), en, 19:50. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-9-7—20; Johnstown 9-12-8—29.
Goalies — Kenai River, Goor (28 shots, 26 saves); Johnstown, Hotte (20 shots, 20 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Johnstown 2 for 4.
Brown Bears 5, Tomahawks 1
Kenai River 3 1 1 —5
Johnstown 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Marzec (Tzveyn), 5:10; 2. Kenai River, Rock (Marzec), pp, 11:29; 3. Kenai River, Monahan (Butcher, Carroll), 17:32. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 17:00; Johnstown 3 for 17:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Rock, Carroll), :09; 5. Johnstown, Kile (Biasillo), 18:58. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Mezera (Stewart), en, 19:09. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Johnstown 4 for 16:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-8-6—23; Johnstown 8-7-13—28.
Goalies — Kenai River, Goor (28 shots, 27 saves); Johnstown, Hotte (10 shots, 6 saves), Purpura (12 shots, 12 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4, Johnstown 0 for 4.