The Kenai River Brown Bears dropped a pair of North American Hockey League games on Friday and Saturday.
The Bears lost 5-4 to the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill on Friday and the Minnesota Magicians 6-5 in a shootout Saturday.
Kenai River is 12-25-1-2, in sixth place in the Midwest Division, one point behind the Chill (10-20-3-5). The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues hold the final playoff 13 points ahead of the Brown Bears, while Minnesota is just two points ahead of the Blues at 19-16-3-1.
Kenai River plays at Janesville on Friday and Springfield on Saturday before returning to host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights on Feb. 9 and 10 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said his team is close, so close that a winning streak is in reach.
“We scored nine goals this weekend,” Petrich said. “That should be good enough to get two wins.
“We made enough crucial mistakes that if you were going to write a how-to book on how to blow two games, this was the manuscript for sure.”
In Friday’s loss, Petrich said the Brown Bears played about 54 minutes of hard hockey, but three brief and crucial lapses doomed the Bears to a third straight loss.
“We just made some mental mistakes,” he said. “It’s tough to beat a team four times in a row.”
Kenai River dropped to 2-2 against the Chill this year, but had swept them at home two weekends ago.
“Tonight we unfortunately made it even tougher,” Petrich said about the team’s postseason hopes. “We made our margin for error even smaller, but I think we’ve played five solid games in a row.”
Collin Price netted the go-ahead winner for Coulee Region with 9:19 left in the game, breaking a 4-all tie. Petrich said the scoring strike was one that Bears goalie Gavin Enright would likely wish to have back as the first-year netminder allowed the puck in on a near-side deflection that may have glanced off his skate. Enright stopped 34 shots between the pipes for the Bears.
First period goals from Alex Klekotka and Gil Garcia helped Kenai River break even after 20 minutes of game action. Garcia’s strike was his 16th goal of the year, and it put the Bears up 2-1 in the first, although Coulee Region tied it up with 30 seconds left in the period.
A Carter Wade conversion put Kenai River up 3-2 in the second period, but the Bears faced penalty trouble. Kenai River was sent to the penalty kill three straight times before Coulee Region capitalized.
A hooking minor by Preston Weeks led to a game-tying power play goal from the Chill’s Gavin Holland, and a minute later, Jackson Decker gave Coulee Region the lead at 4-3.
Markuss Komuls answered the bell for the Bears with 10:15 remaining in the third, tying it up with his sixth goal of the season.
Price responded just 56 seconds later and Kenai River was unable to match it the rest of the way, although Petrich was pleased with the team’s effort in the dying minutes, noting that the Bears put “about three scoring chances on them in the last 15 seconds.”
“We didn’t capitalize on those (opportunities),” Petrich said. “That’s been our MO here for a while, when we get that chance to step on their throat and put the dagger in them, we haven’t been doing that.
“It’s part of culture, it’s that killer instinct, that knowing how to win. Not many of our guys have experienced that in the past.”
Saturday was a game of special teams, with Kenai River finishing 4 for 7 on the power play and Minnesota going 2 for 5.
The Magicians led 1-0 after the first period, but the Bears scored five times in the second period — four on the power play — to take a 5-3 lead into the final period. Komuls scored twice, while Michael Spethmann, Alex Klekotka and Luke Radetic also scored.
“Our power play started clicking, we were moving the puck and doing good stuff,” Petrich said. “We were also drawing good penalties through good work.”
However, Minnesota came back with two power-play goals in the third period for the tie.
In the shootout, Sacha Guillemain was the only one of three Bears shooters to score, while two of three Magicians shooters scored on Gavin Enright.
Chill 5, Brown Bears 4
Kenai River 2 1 1 —4
Coulee Region 2 2 1 —5
First period – 1. Kenai River, Klekotka (Posner, McDonald), 7:36; 2. Coulee Region, Havrila (Martin, Plunkett), 12:36; 3. Kenai River, Garcia (McDonald, Radetic), 13:20; 4. Coulee Region, McGlynn (Canestra, Koch), 19:30. Penalties — Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Wade (Allegrini, Krajnik), 7:53; 6. Coulee Region, Holland (Dabrowski), PP, 10:28; 7. Coulee Region, Decker (Dabrowski, Bryant), 11:25. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 8. Kenai River, Komuls (Fedorek, Ezitis), 9:45; 9. Coulee Region, Price (Decker, Vochozka), 10:41. Penalties — Coulee Region 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 15-15-14—44; Coulee Region 13-13-13—39.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (39 shots, 34 saves); Coulee Region, Zetterquist (44 shots, 40 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Coulee Region 1 for 4.
Magicians 6, Brown Bears 5
Kenai River 0 5 0 0 0 — 5
Minnesota 1 2 2 0 1 — 6
First period — 1. Minnesota, DeStefani (Ganske, Buhl), 15:08. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Komuls (Scahill, Posner), pp, 4:33; 3. Minnesota, Stanton (Grundy, Lee), 5:54; 4. Minnesota, Grundy (Laukaitis, DeStefani), 8:57; 5. Kenai River, Komuls (Krajnik, Klekotka), pp, 10:37; 6. Kenai River, Spethmann (Klekotka, C. McDonald), 14:08; 7. Kenai River, Klekotka (Krajnik, Komuls), pp, 17:25; 8. Kenai River, Radetic (Karlsson, Guillemain), pp, 18:58. Penalties — Minnesota 7 for 25:00.
Third period — 1. Minnesota, Grundy (Kirkendall, Lee), pp, 9:17; 2. Minnesota, DeStefani (Dybicz, Buhl), pp, 13:05. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 1 (Guillemain G, Komuls NG, Wade NG); Minnesota 2 (Stanton G, Lee NG, Laukaitis G).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-16-7-3—34; Minnesota 10-5-10-1—26.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (26 shots, 21 saves); Minnesota, Saville (24 shots, 19 saves), McBey (10 shots, 10 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 4 for 7, Minnesota 2 for 5.