Texas Tornado goalie Scott Zacharias can only watch as Kenai River Brown Bears forward Adam Wiesner scores past David Starr of the Tornado in the first period Thursday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai River coach Mike Flanagan knows that no amount of practice can cure penalties.
As he says, it's just discipline.
After the Brown Bears performance on Thursday night, however, he may want to try and come up with something.
Penalized 10 times in the first two periods alone, Kenai River surrendered five power-play tallies, including three of Texas' first four goals, in losing to the Tornado, 8-3, at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"It's killing us," Flanagan said. "We talked about it before (Thursday's) game. We stressed the fact that we needed to stay out of the box. He called a very tight game (Thursday), which is one thing. Bottom line is he's the referee and he's in charge and he calls the game the way he sees it and we have to live with it.
"There's two teams out there and I didn't see a lot of penalties being taken by Texas," he added. "Rightly or wrongly, we continued to find our way into the penalty box."
Averaging roughly 30 penalty minutes a game, according to Flanagan, it didn't take the Brown Bears long to find the box.
Just 57 seconds into the contest, Tad Norris was called for interference and only 1:14 later, Texas capitalized when Ryan Fuller one-timed a slap shot from just inside the blue line past Kenai goaltender Steven Madej for an early lead.
Trading goals a few minutes later newcomer Tony McDonald for the Brown Bears off an assist from Kenai Central High School graduate Jed McGlasson, who was playing in his first career game for the Brown Bears, and Blake O'Connor for Texas the Tornado (6-7-1) again capitalized on a two-man advantage when John Bullis slipped one past Madej for a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.
"I think it's hard for our guys to find some flow when we're continually going to the box," Flanagan said. "You can't play a normal game because now you're just playing penalty-kill guys. It's just ridiculous."
The Brown Bears (2-11-1) trimmed the deficit to one when Madej caught the Tornado during a line change, advancing the puck to Jeffrey Harris, who fed a slicing Brett Englebright for an easy tap-in just 1:58 into the second.
From there, though, Texas' Ben Van Lare took over.
He scored his first of the game on a power-play slapper from the point for a 4-2 cushion, but Kenai's Alexi Kulikouskiy stole the puck in the Tornado zone and wristed it by Scott Zacharias, making it 4-3 with 6:43 to play in the period.
Keeping the pressure on, the Brown Bears appeared to knot the game when the puck was deflected past Zacharias before the net came loose. But, according to Flanagan, the goal was waved off for the use of hands in directing the puck.
"I believe that it was a goal. I don't think that it was directly knocked into the net with a hand," he said. " I think it hit the body, whether it hit his hand or his chest or whatever, it still went into the net. It wasn't purposely directed into the net with the hand. The puck went into the net before the net came off, so anyway I can digest it, it's a goal to me."
It clearly deflated what fight the Brown Bears had left in them, as Van Lare scored about two minutes later and added his third of the game 1:20 after that in making it 6-3 entering the third.
It only got worse for Kenai, too, as Tyler Bowman extended the cushion to 7-3 when he drove the puck past Madej and Van Lare scored his fourth of the game, another power-play tally, when Sean Roadhouse won the faceoff in Kenai's end, dropped the puck and Van Lare let it ride.
"We're averaging 30 minutes a game in penalties ... That's total penalties. So, you throw in the five-minute majors or a 10-minute misconduct, it boils down to you're still playing, on average, 20 minutes, five-on-four. You can't. You just can't," Flanagan explained. "Like once in a blue moon you'll get away with that, but when you're consistently playing short-handed, you're just asking for trouble."
Also making things difficult on the Brown Bears are the long layoffs between games. They had nine days off following their eight-game road trip and hadn't played in a week before losing on Thursday.
"I don't like it at all," Flanagan said. "That's just the situation with being in Alaska. We go down to the Lower 48, we play Friday and Saturday and then we wait a week, we play Friday and Saturday, we wait a week, we play Friday and Saturday, we wait a week, we play Friday and Saturday. Teams come up here, they play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and they go home. They're here for two weeks ...
"It's ridiculous. So, I think the scheduling is terrible."
They don't have long to wait this time, though, as the Brown Bears hit the ice again at 7 p.m. today for another matchup with Texas.
"Tomorrow's another day," Flanagan said. "We've just got to put this one behind us and move on, can't linger on it."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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