In terms of travel, a lot separates the Kenai River Brown Bears and the Dawson Creek (B.C.) Rage. The trip involves a bus ride to Anchorage, flight to Seattle, flight to Edmonton, then a 7.5-hour bus trip to Dawson Creek.
In terms of hockey ability, the Bears and Rage of the North American Hockey League are proving that not a lot separates them. Each of the first six games the teams have played have been decided by a goal.
On Friday, the Rage notched a 3-2, shootout victory at the Soldotna Sports Center. The Rage followed the up with a 1-0 victory on Saturday to take three in a row from the Brown Bears at the sports center. Kenai River had taken two of three from the Rage in Dawson Creek to start October.
The Brown Bears are now 6-8-2, good for fourth place in the West Division. The Rage are 6-9-1, one point behind the Brown Bears in fifth place.
Just as in a 5-4 loss to the Rage on Thursday, the Brown Bears outshot Dawson Creek on Friday and Saturday. Thursday's shot totals were 35-21, while Friday's totals were 46-23 and Saturday's were 36-24.
The Brown Bears were missing leading scorer Doug Beck for the three games against the Rage with an undisclosed upper body injury.
In their last game before Thursday's loss, the Brown Bears outshot Fresno, Calif., 49-35 and lost 4-3.
So it's no surprise that the focus of Oliver David's postgame remarks to his team on Friday was finishing.
"It's tough," David said. "You have to give credit to DC for blocking shots and clearing rebounds from in front of the net. It takes a lot of heart to do that.
"It's tough to swallow night in and night out outshooting teams and not winning."
Andrew Walsh stood tall in net for the Rage on Friday, saving 44 shots and stuffing all three Brown Bears in the shootout, but the Rage's defense was solid enough that Walsh did not have to make saves that continually had the crowd of 631 gasping in awe.
On Saturday, Walsh saved all 36 shots in front of 553.
"That was our focus tonight -- strong defense," Dawson Creek coach Scott Robinson said after Friday's victory.
Even awarding the Brown Bears 10 power plays on Friday did not blur that focus.
"Our penalty killing was pretty darn good," Robinson said after his team allowed a pair of power-play goals. "We didn't want to take that many penalties."
After a scoreless first period, the Rage took the lead with 14:32 left in the second when Bobby Turnbull gathered the puck at the point and passed to Nolan Rossiter in front of the net. Rossiter one-timed the puck across the crease to Scott Fellnermayr for a goal.
The Brown Bears tied the game with 4:53 left in the second when Soldotna High School product Brad Duwe found Ryan Walker barreling down the crease on the power play. Walker slipped a wrister past Walsh's glove hand.
Just 1:43 into the third, the Brown Bears gave up a three-on-one, and Keenan Bailey converted the chance.
Persson got his second assist for the Brown Bears by rushing the puck all the way up the ice before leaving it on the tape of Alex Frere, who converted the power-play goal.
"That was just a great play by Persson," David said.
Despite the two power-play goals in 10 attempts, David was not completely satisfied with the unit.
"Anything above 20 percent is the standard and we're not operating above 20 percent right now," David said.
The Brown Bears were 0-for-5 on the power play Saturday.
The Brown Bears have now drawn the second most power plays in the league, but are converting 14.43 percent of those opportunities.
After Frere's goal on Friday, the last 14:08 featured both teams rushing up and down and creating chances, but not solving Walsh or Kenai River's Josh Benton, who made 21 saves.
After a scoreless overtime, the Rage immediately took control of the shootout thanks to the, shall we say, confidence of Carter Page.
"I told the first guy not to get too fancy," Robinson said. "He looked at me and said, 'Yeah.' Then he went out and got fancy."
It worked as Page roofed a backhand. Walsh stuffed Sean Muller, then Dakota Mason came back with a move nearly identical to Page's and pushed the advantage to 2-0.
After Frere's attempt met the left pad of Walsh, Lucas Recknagle stuffed the puck through Benton for a 3-0 advantage. When Erick Ware missed the net, the game was over.
"It boiled down to a shootout and we made three pretty good moves," Robinson said.
On Saturday, Hartley scored on an assist from Rossiter with 3:37 left in the first period to complete the night's scoring.
Dawson Creek 3, Kenai River 2, SO
Dawson Creek 0 1 1 0 1 --3
Kenai River 0 1 1 0 0 --2
First period -- none. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 1. Dawson Creek, Fellnermayr (Rossiter, Turnbull), 5:28; 2. Kenai River, Walker (Duwe, Persson), pp, 15:07. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 3. Dawson Creek, Bailey (Johannesson), 1:43; 4. Kenai River, Frere (Persson), pp, 5:52. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00.
Overtime -- none. Penalties -- none.
Shootout -- Dawson Creek 3 (Page G, Mason G, Recknagle G), Kenai River 0 (Muller NG, Frere NG, Ware NG).
Shots on goal -- Dawson Creek 7-9-2-5--23; Kenai River 16-13-15-2--46.
Goalies -- Dawson Creek, Walsh (46 shots, 44 saves); Kenai River, Benton (23 shots, 21 saves).
Power plays -- Dawson Creek 0 for 3; Kenai River 2 for 10.
Rage 1, Brown Bears 0
Dawson Creek 1 0 0 --1
Kenai River 0 0 0 --0
First period -- 1. Dawson Creek, Hartley (Rossiter), 16:23. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- none. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- none. Penalties -- Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Dawson Creek 8-10-6--24; Kenai River 10-15-11--36.
Goalies -- Dawson Creek, Walsh (36 shots, 36 saves); Dahlstrom (24 shots, 23 saves).
Power play -- Dawson Creek 0 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 5.
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