The final score didn't reflect it, but Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David walked away from his squad's first game in three weeks happy as a peach.
The Bears finished on the short end of an even contest in their first game at home since Nov. 27, falling to the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer 2-1 before 478 fans Thursday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The squads play again at 7:30 p.m. today and at the same time Saturday.
"I thought we played excellent," David said. "It was a great game. It's really unfortunate not to get a point."
Matt Friese provided the game-winner for Alaska with 4:07 remaining in the third period, sneaking a left-handed shot from the right wing just over the left shoulder of Kenai River goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who made 27 saves on 29 shots.
Daniel Senkbeil and Blake Huppert assist the goal, which broke what had been a 1-1 tie since the first period.
"He had a great gap and kind of had control of the situation," David said of Friese setting up the game-winner. "Friese just cut back and shot it like they had all night. That one just snuck by."
The Bears (15-14-3, 33 points) nearly tied the score inside the final minute when forward Doug Beck took the puck on the right wing off a faceoff and fired a shot into the crease.
Alaska goaltender Landon Peterson, who finished with 36 saves on 37 shots, deflected the puck to Kenai River's Brad Duwe. With a crowd around the goal, Duwe poked another shot toward the net, where Peterson was waiting.
It was one of many near scores for the Bears, who outshot the Avs 37-29 and were in good position to score much of the night.
"It had the feeling of a playoff game," David said. "We were sound, they were sound. It was definitely a high level of hockey, the highest I've seen for a while. That was a sharp game for us, for sure."
Doug Beck had what appeared to be a goal on a wraparound move midway through the third, but the officials said it didn't cross the goal line.
"Enough of that consistently will lead to success," David said, crediting Peterson. "He's very, very good, but tonight I would say he played at his very best. Hats off to him."
Neither team was effective on the power play as the Bears were 0-for-6 and the Avs 0-for-4.
Both teams played with two-man advantages for stints of a second period that included a combined 10 penalties, but the goaltenders continued to thwart the scoring bids.
Alaska (23-14-1, 47 points) had a golden chance to take the lead with 1:44 left in the second when Jesse Ramsey tripped Alaska's Jacob Barber, who had the puck with a clear path to the net.
The infraction set up a penalty shot, but Dahlstrom snuffed out a backhanded effort after Barber went right to left in the one-on-one situation.
It was a rare mistake for Ramsey, who for the first time as a Brown Bear played defense instead of forward. He was named the player of the game by his teammates.
The second period was littered with penalties and concluded with three players getting sent off the ice after two scuffles broke out with 4.5 seconds remaining.
After play was stopped following a whistle, Senkbeil shoved a Kenai River player in the back, setting off a chain of pushes and shoves.
Senkbeil fell to the ice by Kenai River's Matt Thompson, who was called for an infraction along with teammate Bobby Murphy.
Zach Smith put Alaska ahead at the 12:11 mark of the first when he took a pass from Wehebe Darge at the faceoff circle and fired a wrister from right to left past Dahlstrom.
The Bears found the equalizer inside two minutes on a goal from a wide-open Sean Muller, who took a pass from Ray Stenehjem and beat Peterson.
Kenai River had two power-play chances in the first, but came up empty on both.
Although the Bears didn't earn a point, David said the team played some of its best hockey of the season.
About the only thing Kenai River didn't do right was put the puck in the back of the net.
"If we play with that kind of togetherness and get after it like that, there's nothing left you can ask for other than to score goals," David said. "I can't point to very many mistakes at all. We bodied up, we cleared the front of the net, we shot the puck -- probably had the most scoring chances of the whole season -- we did everything very well."
Avalanche 2, Brown Bears 1
Alaska 1 0 1 -2
Kenai River 1 0 0 -1
First period - 1. Alaska, Smith (Darge), 7:49; 2. Kenai River, Muller (Stenehjem), 18:38. Penalties - Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River none.
Second period - Penalties Alaska 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 6 for 12:00.
Third period - 3. Alaska, Friese (Senkbeil, Huppert), 15:53. Penalties - Alaska 3 for 6:00 ; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal - Alaska 10-12-7--29; Kenai River 14-7-16--37.
Goalies - Alaska, Peterson (37 shots-29 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (29 shots-27 saves).
Power plays - Alaska 0 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 6.
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