The Kenai River Brown Bears closed out a nine-game road trip by splitting a pair of games against the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters on Friday and Saturday.
Kenai River (21-18-4, 46 points) has been on the road the past three weeks, going 5-3-1 and returning in fourth place in the North American Hockey League West Division standings. The squad lost 5-3 on Friday, but rebounded with a 6-3 win on Saturday.
The top four teams advance to the playoffs. The Bears hold a 10-point lead over the fifth-place Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage (17-25-2, 36 points).
Coach Oliver David said by phone Saturday night that he is happy with the effort, but the team fell one win shy of reaching a goal it set before the road trip began. The Bears hoped to win seven of 12 games or earn points in eight of them, stemming back to a series at home before the team took to the road. Instead, the Bears got six wins.
"It's a little bittersweet," David said. "We have some games up on the teams chasing us, but we could have done more with our opportunities."
In Friday's game, Fresno scored the first four goals en route to a two-goal victory in front of 2,231 fans.
The Brown Bears outshot Fresno 35-22, but the Monsters were able to solve both Kenai River goalies. Mathias Dahlstrom had six saves on nine shots, while Josh Benton had 11 saves on 13 shots.
David said Dahlstrom wasn't his typical self in the loss, failing to track the puck.
"He did struggle," David said. "It's been three weeks and for whatever reason, it didn't go his way."
Riley Borer and Willie Hess scored in the first period for Fresno. DJ Carnley upped the lead just 39 seconds into the second period, while Hess made it 4-0 with 11:49 left in the second.
With 8:43 left in the second, Sean Muller got the Bears on the board on assists from Matt Thompson and Jesse Ramsey. It was Muller's 16th goal and 32nd point of the season. With just 47 seconds left in the second, Doug Beck lit the lamp for the 23rd time this season. Alec Thieda and Brett Lubanski assisted.
Matthew Coleman extended Fresno's lead to 5-2 with 8:34 left in the third. Brad Duwe collected his 11th goal of the season to complete the scoring. Lubanski and Beck had the assists.
On Saturday, Lubanski scored twice as the Bears used a four-goal second period to blow the game open. Kenai River led 6-1 in the third before the Monsters tallied a pair of late scores. With the two goals, Lubanski bumped his point total to 44 (11 goals, 33 assists).
Alec Thieda, recently acquired from the Texas Tornado, had two assists, while Thompson scored twice.
The Bears were 1-of-4 on the power play. The Monsters were 2-of-7. Kenai River scored goals shorthanded, on the power play and at even strength, while Fresno's two late goals both came on the power play.
"We scored every way you can," David said.
Benton got the start in goal, making 32 saves in 35 tries.
"Benton showed a little more energy than (Dahlstrom), so we went with him," David said. "He did a good job."
Kenai River will travel through the night today, David said, returning home early Monday. The squad will take Monday off, practice Tuesday and begin preparations for a two-game series against the first-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Sports Center. The games are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
"Nothing gets easier," David said. "Practice, practice, practice. That's the key."
Monsters 5, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 0 2 1 --3
Fresno 2 2 1 --5
First period -- 1. Fresno, Borer (Cox), 11:03; 2. Fresno, Hess (un.), 13:41. Penalties -- Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fresno 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. Fresno, Carnley (Pauluk, Borer), 0:39; 4. Fresno, Hess (un.), 8:11; 5. Kenai River, Muller (Thompson, Ramsey), 11:17; 6. Kenai River, Beck (Thieda, Lubanski), 19:13. Penalties -- Fresno 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 7. Fresno, Coleman (Powers, Cox), pp, 11:26; 8. Kenai River, Duwe (Lubanski, Beck), pp, 16:25. Penalties -- Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fresno 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai River 5-15-15--35; Fresno 7-10-5--22.
Goalies -- Kenai River, Dahlstrom (9 shots, 6 saves), Benton (13 shots, 11 saves); Fresno, Hernandez (35 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays -- Kenai River 1 for 3; Fresno 1 for 2.
Brown Bears 6, Monsters 3
Kenai River 1 4 1 --6
Fresno 1 0 2 --3
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Thompson (Thieda, Walker), 11:18; 2. Fresno, Cox (Sutliffe, Orhn), 14:46. Penalties -- Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Fresno 1 for 5:00.
Second period -- 3. Kenai River, Lubanski (Thieda, Duwe), 0:48; 4. Kenai River, Ware (Frere, Keenan), 7:01; 5. Kenai River, Thompson (Stenehjem, Frere), pp, 13:59; 6. Kenai River, Frere (Keenan), sh, 17:49. Penalties -- Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fresno 2 for 15:00.
Third period -- 7. Kenai River, Lubanski (Beck), sh, 2:13; 8. Fresno, Obarzanek (Orhn, Powers), pp, 3:12; 9. Fresno, Obarzanek (Carnley, Pauluk), pp, 13:10. Penalties -- Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fresno 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal -- Kenai River 7-16-8--31; Fresno 9-11-15--35.
Goalies -- Kenai River, Benton (35 shots, 32 saves); Fresno, Hernandez (31 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays -- Kenai River 1 for 4; Fresno 2 for 7.
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