The Kenai River Brown Bears are all but in the North American Hockey League playoffs.
It would take seven straight Kenai River losses and eight consecutive Fresno (Calif.) Monsters wins to close the season for the Bears to miss the playoffs.
The Bears swept the Monsters at the Soldotna Sports Center, winning 7-1 on Friday and 6-3 on Saturday. The sweep puts the Bears in position to catch the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild for third place in the NAHL West Division.
Kenai River (25-21-5, 55 points) hosts Wenatchee (28-19-3, 59 points) Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. and with two wins the Bears would equal the Wild with 59 points for third in the West.
Brown Bears coach Oliver David said making the playoffs is the ultimate goal of the team. He is happy the team has now more than doubled last year's win total of 12.
This would be the third straight year the Bears made the playoffs, but this is a different team than the one swept by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in 2009 and the Wild in 2010.
In each of those seasons, the Bears automatically made the postseason because there were only four teams in the West Division.
This year, with six teams in the West, a playoff spot is earned.
"We're really excited," Kenai River defenseman Erik Persson said. "The last couple of seasons we weren't as good. This year, we've turned it around."
The Bears wasted very little time finding the scoreboard in their 7-1 win in front of 876 fans.
The squad used the first of two weeks off prior to Friday's game to practice scoring. The work quickly bore fruit as Brad Duwe, Chris Rial and Erick Ware scored in the first 10 minutes for a 3-0 lead.
Duwe's 15th goal and Rial's 14th goal came so close to each other that the announcer was still intoning Duwe's tally when Rial lit the lamp.
"We just didn't come ready to play," Fresno coach Eric Ballard said. "You can't take a shift off against them. Kenai has built a good team."
Fresno cut the lead to 3-1 midway through the first and then were outshot just 11-10 in the second. Kenai River goalie Mathias Dahlstrom was not about to let the Monsters back in the game. He made 23 saves for his second straight victory.
Meanwhile, Fresno goalie Luis Puig made 29 saves.
"Our goalie is a good kid, a good goalie, but he was a bit off tonight," Ballard said. "Dahlstrom was on."
Jesse Ramsey moved the Bears' lead to 4-1 with an unassisted goal with 5:43 left in the second, then Persson scored the first of his two power-play goals from the point with a resounding slap shot from just inside the blue line.
Persson's mother, Helena; father, Thomas; and sister, Julia; came all the way from Hallefors, Sweden, for a two-week vacation that includes taking in Brown Bears games.
"I just wanted to play good," he said. "I didn't think about that they were here."
Persson started the season running the point on the Kenai River power play, but then lost that job. Friday was his first night back at the point.
"When he's at his best, he's taking his shot and getting it on net," David said. "That's what he did tonight."
Sean Muller and Persson closed out the scoring in the third period, which also included donnybrook sessions featuring Muller vs. Riley Borer and Fresno's Brody Lynott vs. Joe Blake. Muller's fight, along with his first-period assist and third-period goal, completed a Gordie Howe hat trick.
The Monsters' Jordan Johnson also drew a game ejection for instigating a scuffle with Bobby Murphy.
On Saturday, before 993 fans, Doug Beck scored a hat trick as the Bears took a 3-0 lead in the first period. Matt Thompson and Murphy scored in the first along with Beck, who got his second and third goals in the final period. Persson also scored for Kenai River.
Dahlstrom picked up the win in goal, his third straight victory.
Brown Bears 7, Monsters 1
Fresno 1 0 0 --1
Kenai River 3 2 2 --7
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Duwe (Lubanski, Beck), 4:36; 2. Kenai River, Rial (Ramsey), 5:03; 3. Kenai River, Ware (Muller), 9:07; 4. Fresno, Carnley (Borer), 9:41. Penalties -- Fresno 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 5. Kenai River, Ramsey (un.), 14:17; 6. Kenai River, Persson (Duwe), pp, 17:38. Penalties -- Fresno 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 7. Kenai River, Muller (Thompson), 4:40; 8. Kenai River, Persson (Lubanski), 14:08. Penalties -- Fresno 6 for 29:00; Kenai River 4 for 14:00.
Shots on goal -- Fresno 9-10-5--24; Kenai River 16-11-9--36.
Goalies -- Fresno, Puig (36 shots, 29 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (24 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays -- Fresno 0 for 2; Kenai River 2 for 5.
Fresno 0 2 1 --3
Kenai River 3 1 2 --6
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Thompson (Murphy, Persson), 7:28; 2. Kenai River, Beck (Duwe, Lubanski), pp, 10:05; 3. Kenai River, Murphy (Muller, Walker), 19:02. Penalties -- Fresno 1 for 2:00; Kenai River none.
Seocnd period -- 4. Kenai River, Persson, (Duwe, Lubanski), pp, 6:19; 5. Fresno, Bjorklund (Coleman, Anderson), 6:40; 6. Fresno, Carnley (Powers, Pauluk), 16:30. Penalties -- Fresno 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 7. Kenai River, Beck (Rial, Mansolill), 16:57; 8. Fresno, Carnley (Powers, Scherer), 17:31 9. Kenai River, Beck (Walker, Lubanski), sh, 19:34. Penalties -- Fresno 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Fresno 12-8-1--21; Kenai River 15-14-3--32.
Goalies -- Fresno, Conlin (31 shots, 26 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (21 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays -- Fresno 0 for 1; Kenai River 2 for 4.
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