PALMER -- In just a year, the Kenai River Brown Bears have shown remarkable improvement and nothing shows that better than the Bears' season series with the Alaska Avalanche.
Last year, Kenai finished a horrid 1-16-1 against its rival from the Matanuska-Susitna valleys. But this year, the Bears finished the regular-season series skating .500 against the Avs.
On Saturday at the MTA Palmer Ice Arena, Kenai used a 4-1 win to grab its seventh victory in 14 tries against Alaska this season.
"We obviously are working on being a competitive team consistently," Kenai River head coach Oliver David said following a win that also netted Kenai the Alaska Bear Cup, a 3-year-old traveling trophy given to the winner of the season series between the intrastate rivals. "It was nice for us. We started (the series) down 1-0. They won the first game of the year, but the rest of the year we were .500 or above (against Alaska this season) until last night. It was nice to come back, even it up and win the Alaska Bear Cup. That was nice, a big deal. We actually talked about that."
Alaska skated to the 6-2 win over Kenai River on Friday.
Kenai posted its win on Saturday in remarkably similar fashion to Alaska's route to victory on Friday. The Brown Bears scored three times in the first and chased Alaska starter Nick Kulmanovsky out of the Avalanche net. Kenai also recorded goals on back-to-back power plays during a span of just more than a minute.
On Friday, it was the Avs who scored early and often. Alaska popped three pucks past starter Josh Benton, before Kenai replaced its starting netminder. Alaska also scored goals on consecutive power plays Friday during a stretch of just more than a minute.
David said it was nice to see not just the even-strength production, but his team cash in on the power play.
"Our power play has been good, but not scoring," David said. "That might not make sense to some people, but we've had a lot of chances, lot of opportunities, but we haven't scored. It's nice to see it come together tonight."
Kenai's first power-play goal came on a 5-on-3 advantage. Defenseman Chris Rial picked up the puck at the left wing circle and snapped a shot into the far side of the net to give his team the 2-0 lead. Just more than a minute later, Bobby Murphy knocked in the rebound of a James Ramsey shot to push the Bears' lead to 3-0.
Alaska head coach Brian Huebel said the Avalanche simply did not play to their potential Saturday.
"We did not play well in this game at all, especially in the first period," Huebel said.
Alaska outshot the Brown Bears in every period and 45-31 in the game, but Huebel didn't feel the consistency was there.
Rookie Evan Hesse put the Avs on the scoreboard early in the third, smacking a shot from between the circles into the net. But that was the only puck Alaska could sneak past Kenai goalie Mathias Dahlstrom.
David had high praise for his goalie.
"Every game we've won, the goalie can get the player of the game almost every time," David said. "(Mathias) is a very athletic, very dedicated kid with a whole lot of potential. We're happy he's on our team."
While Huebel wasn't exactly thrilled with Saturday's outcome, the head coach knows what his team is capable of.
"The situation is very correctable. It's not like we need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to come out and play for 60 minutes from when the first puck drops," Huebel said. "We did it yesterday. We didn't do it today."
Eliot Grauer and Grant Dye each posted a pair of goals during Alaska's four-goal win on Friday. Derek Whitehill collected a goal and two assists.
Grauer, who was making his home debut after arriving in a trade with Wenatchee, tallied an unassisted score four minutes into play to give Alaska the early lead. Whitehill added to that advantage seven minutes later. Late in the first, Dye and Grauer posted power-play goals 1:16 apart.
Dye and Andy Pearson added third-period scores for Alaska.
Alaska continues its long homestand Friday, hosting Fairbanks in a two-game series. The Avs will also host Wenatchee and Fresno within the next three weeks.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenai River 4, Alaska 1
Saturday, MTA Palmer Ice Arena
First period -- 1. Kenai- Suller (Ramsey) 3:42; 2 Kenai- Rial (Ware, Beck) pp 13:14; 3. Kenai- Murphy (Ramsey, Thieda) pp 14:39.
Second period -- no scoring.
Third period -- 4. Alaska- Hesse (Van Allen, Friese) 4:27; 5. Kenai- Frere (Beck, Duwe) 14:13.
Shots on goal: Kenai 9-12-10--31, Alaska 10-14-21--45; Saves: Kenai- Dahlstrom 10-14-20--44, Alaska- Kulmanovsky 0-x-x--0, Peterson 6-12-9--27.
Alaska 6, Kenai River 2
Friday, MTA Palmer Ice Arena
First period -- 1. Alaska- Grauer (unassisted) 4:03; 2. Alaska- Whitehill (Williams, Dye) 11:39; 3. Alaska- Dye (Williams, Pearson) pp 14:27; 4. Alaska- Grauer (Van Allen, Senkbeil) pp 15:43.
Second period -- 5. Kenai River- Duwe (Murphy, Ware) pp 12:18.
Third period -- 6. Kenai- Murphy (Muller) pp 11:40; 7. Alaska- Dye (Schmitz, Whitehill) 15:10; 8. Alaska- Pearson (Schmitz, Whitehill) 18:26.
Shots on goal: Kenai 10-9-5--24, Alaska 10-10-16--36; Saves: Kenai- Benton 0-x-x--0, Dahlstrom 6-10-14--30, Alaska- Peterson 10-8-4--22.
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