Slowly but surely, the Kenai River Brown Bears are making strides.
Outshot by 13 in the opening period Thursday, the Brown Bears owned a 24-17 edge over the Fargo-Moorhead Jets through the final two periods but couldn't find the back of the net in falling, 3-1, in Blaine, Minn.
"I was happy with way they played for 40 minutes," said Kenai River coach Mike Flanagan. "I told them after the game, 'That's all I want is a solid effort like that.'"
It was a far cry from Wednesday's game, when the defending North American Hockey League champion St. Louis Bandits outshot the Brown Bears, 60-26, including a 29-13 onslaught in the third period, in capturing a 6-3 victory.
Flanagan noticed a difference in his team's work ethic on Thursday.
"That's what we're going through right now, we're learning. We've got a long road ahead of us and we've got to keep our wits about ourselves and stay positive," he explained. "As long as we're working hard, I can live with mistakes ... But if they're not working hard and they're making mistakes, you're watching the game go by, you're not even participating in it.
"By working hard, you also create opportunities for yourself," Flanagan added. "Hard work is the core building block for any successful team."
The Brown Bears' goalies are certainly working hard and are simultaneously keeping them in games.
One day after Steven Madej denied 54 of the 60 shots he faced, Spencer Alvarez limited the damage by turning away 33 of 36 shots.
Flanagan plans on continuing the rotation.
"For now," he said. "They're both playing well, so they both deserve to play."
Andy Dittus staked the Jets to a 1-0 lead only 4:45 into the contest when he converted on a power play, something the Brown Bears have had trouble defending all season.
But Kevin Wentland answered for Kenai (1-4) about two minutes later, knotting the score at one.
It remained that way until the 14:02 mark of the period when Andrew Muir recorded a shorthanded tally for a 2-1 advantage.
Fargo then made it a two-goal game when Mark Johnson scored 9:05 into the second.
"We came out flat in first period," he said. "We played very well in the second and third periods."
While the Jets were only 1-for-8 on the power play, Flanagan is still concerned with his team's special teams after surrendering five power-play goals against the Bandits.
"We've just got keep chipping away at it. We've got 21 first-year players who have never played in this league before. Some of them played like 30 games last year. We play 58 ... big difference in schedule and the day-to-day grind," he said. "We've got to work on some things. We're getting killed on the power play and our power play has been a little ineffective as well.
"But we can improve our special teams and just bring the work level up for 60 minutes and I like the way things will pan out for us," Flanagan added. "But we've got to get there first."
The Brown Bears take on the Springfield Jr. Blues at 10:15 a.m. today.
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