After being outplayed in the second period, Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla head coach Dave Boitz said he challenged his team to come out and play to their potential.
The Avs scored four third-period goals, lifting them to a 5-2 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Tuesday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Sports Center. With the win, the Avs (17-7-6) regain second place in the West Division with 40 points, just one point better than Fairbanks. The Brown Bears (5-23-2) remain in last place in the West.
The victory also puts the Avs in control for the procurement of the first Alaska Bear Cup. The cup's winner is the winner, by goal differential, of a home-and-home series between the Bears and Avs. The second game of the series is tonight in Wasilla at 7 p.m.
Logan Maly broke a 1-1 tie just 24 seconds into the third period. Blake Huppert put a shot on net from the right hash marks. Maly, who was in front of Kenai River net minder Mike Martin, slipped the rebound past him for the goal.
The Avs struck six minutes later, netting their second short-handed goal of the night. Matthew Friese put a shot on net. Martin made the save and the puck went off of him and hit the end boards. It bounced back in front of the net and hit off of Martin and into the back of the goal.
"We took advantage of them being aggressive both times," Boitz said about the short-handed goals.
Two and a half minutes later the Brown Bears cut the lead to 3-2 on a goal from newcomer Johan Skinnars. Skinnars had control of the puck behind the net to the right of Avs goaltender Landon Peterson. Skinnars waited for Jake Musselman to get open in front but he remained covered. Skinnars threw a shot on net and it slipped past Peterson for the goal.
But the Avs answered right back and added two goals two minutes apart.
"We've always been a team that's been growing," said Brown Bears head coach Oliver David. He said all of the mistakes his team has been making are easy to spot and easy to fix. It's just a matter of repeating correct actions until they become habit, David said.
"We are in the process of building those good habits," he added.
Brett Lubanski broke 25 minutes of scoreless hockey just over five minutes into the second period. Lubanski, Brad Fusaro and Josh Royston came into the Avs zone on a three-on-one. Fusaro entered the zone and skated to his right. He hit a streaking Lubanski with a pass on the backdoor behind Peterson. Lubanski buried a shot behind the Avs net minder for the game's first tally.
"We are competing at a very high level," David said. He said he felt his team outworked the Avs for most of the game.
After a sluggish second, Boitz said his team responded well in the third period.
The Brownies had a chance to add to their lead later in the second when they went on the power play. But Wasilla spoiled those plans with a short-handed goal. Huppert and Logan Rounds came in two-on-one. Huppert slid a pass to Rounds to the right side of Martin. Rounds put the shot through Martin's five-hole as he attempted to get a leg pad on the shot. The goal knotted the score at 1-all midway through the second.
The line of Brad Duwe, Doug Beck and Derek Bayagich sustained good pressure on the Avs late in the second period. With under a minute to play, Beck found Duwe in front of the net. Duwe's shot sailed just over a diving Peterson and the net.
The Avs almost broke the tie with under 10 seconds to play. Micki Mahailovich threw a low shot on net. Huppert got a piece of it and redirected the puck toward Martin. But Kenai's net minder was able to get a leg pad on the tip and keep the score 1-1 after two periods of play.
After the Avs had a goal waived off early in the first, the Brown Bears controlled much of the play of the opening period. Alaska's Zach Smith, in close to Martin, made a move to his right but caught the post with an on-ice shot. Though Wasilla put the puck across the goal line, the net was knocked off of its moorings prior to the goal. The referee immediately waived off the goal.
Neither goaltender surrendered a first-period goal, however, Alaska's Landon Peterson had almost twice as many pucks thrown at him than Martin. The Brown Bears had 13 shots to the Avs' seven.
In his first game in Soldotna as a member of the Avs, Jed McGlasson factored in on a couple prime scoring opportunities. On a three-on-two rush with Huppert and Kyle Pichler, McGlasson fed a pass to Huppert who slid the biscuit to Huppert. But Martin denied Huppert's shot. McGlasson had one point and was a plus-1 on the night.
"McGlasson clicked pretty good," Boitz said.
Later McGlasson found Huppert in the slot. He ripped a shot on net and again Martin was up to the task.
One of the better scoring chances came when Musselman threw a saucer pass to Skinnars on the backdoor. But Skinnars just put it over the net.
Musselman created another prime scoring chance with under a minute to play. He hustled to a loose puck and came into the Avs' zone two-on-one. He put a shot on net but Peterson got a piece of it and the puck sailed into the netting and out of play.
Good penalty killing by the Brownies kept the game scoreless in the first. With Skinnars in the box for hooking, Kenai River prevented Alaska from capitalizing on the man advantage.
Right after Skinnars got out of the box, Berkley Scott found Smith in front of Kenai's net. Smith put a shot on goal but Martin made the save and smothered the puck, leaving no rebound.
Avalanche 5, Brown Bears 2
Alaska 0 1 4 -- 5
Kenai River 0 1 1 -- 2
First period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Alaska, 1 for 2:00; Kenai River, 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 1. Kenai River, Lubanski (Fusaro), 5:18; 2. Alaska, Rounds (Huppert, Maly), sh, 11:04. Penalties -- Alaska, 2 for 4:00; Kenai River, 1 for 2:00.
Third period -- 3. Alaska, Maly (Huppert, Pichler), 0:24; 4. Alaska, Friese (Maly, Peterson), sh, 6:47; 5. Kenai River, Skinnars (un), 9:08; 6. Alaska, Parenteau (Friese, Mahailovich), 10:41; 7. Alaska, Huppert (Pichler, McGlasson), 12:52. Penalties -- Alaska, 3 for 6:00; Kenai River, 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Alaska, 7-5-18 -- 30; Kenai River, 13-11-12 -- 36.
Goalies -- Alaska, Peterson (36 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Martin (30 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays -- Alaska, 0 for 2; Kenai River, 0 for 4.
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