Dan Wildfong, head coach of the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas, said after his team’s 4-3 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday that Brahmas goalie Mitchell Gibson, 18, will get drafted by an NHL team this season.
You’ll get no argument from the 803 fans assembled at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for the North American Hockey League contest.
Gibson came on in the first period with his team down 2-0 and stood tall protecting the lead as the Bears rolled up a 16-7 shot advantage in the third period.
“He’s one of the best goalies in the league for a reason,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said of Gibson, who is committed to Harvard. “He’s been lights out all year.”
Gibson was up to his tricks again Saturday as the Brahmas swept the weekend series with a 4-1 win in front of a Brown Bears record 1,827 fans.
The Bears (12-24-1-1) sit tied for last with the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill in the NAHL Midwest Division with 26 points, while the Brahmas (19-10-4-3) are third in the South Division.
Gibson is second in the league in goals-against average at 1.70 and third in save percentage at .931.
Some coaches are coy when asked if one player won the game for them, but Wildfong was playing no such game Friday when asked whether Gibson won the contest for the Brahmas.
“100 percent,” he said of Gibson’s 34 saves. “No question about it. Kenai had a nice push there at the end and we didn’t respond. He had a fantastic game.”
The Bears started the third period in a 4-2 hole and on a two-minute penalty kill from a bench minor by Petrich.
“We got some momentum from killing off that penalty and built it from there,” Petrich said.
With 10:24 to play, Markuss Komuls scored right after the Bears won a faceoff, with assists going to Sacha Guillemain and Zach Krajnik. Petrich said the Guillemain-Krajnik-Emils Ezitis line had a great night.
With 4:49 to play, the Bears got a power play and got at least four stinging shots on Gibson, but he was unalloyed.
Kenai River was 0 for 4 on the power play while the Brahmas were 2 for 3, but again Wildfong pointed toward Gibson.
“They got some nice looks,” Wildfong said of the Bears’ power play. “We’re going to have to clean that up. They didn’t score because of the goaltending.”
With 1:20 left, the Bears pulled goalie Gavin Enright, who had 34 stops, and created about three chaotic chances that Gibson calmly turned away.
“They made it 4-2 and we didn’t quit,” Petrich said. “I was very happy with the guys and the way they kept battling.”
The Bears had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period with two goals on six shots against Lone Star starter Harrison Feeney. Ezitis scored, assisted by Krajnik and Guillemain, just 6:28 into the game.
Less than a minute later, David Kaplan lofted a puck at Feeney from the blue line. It took a weird bounce in front and trickled in, bringing on Gibson.
“I’m a goalie and that shot is a goalie’s worst nightmare,” Petrich said. “He landed it on edge right in front of the net, and you never know where it is going to go.”
Jon Russell scored twice before the close of the first, once on the power play, for a 2-2 game.
In the second period, Justin Addamo and Steven Ipri, on the power play, scored to set up the Bears’ comeback effort in the third period.
“It was a great atmosphere and a great crowd,” Wildfong said. “It’s our first time up here and we’ve been treated unbelievably by the city.
“Josh is doing a great job with this group and this organization.”
Saturday, the Bears let six power play opportunities slip away in the 4-1 loss.
Petrich repeated his Friday sentiments in stating the quality of play Lone Star brings to the ice.
“We had our chances but you’ve got to give their goalie credit,” he said. “He’s excellent, he controls the game, he doesn’t allow big rebounds and stuff like that.
“I don’t get upset until we’re not getting chances.”
The Brahmas took a 2-0 lead in the first period with scoring strikes from Frankie Trazzera and Connor Stuart, but the Bears responded six minutes into the second. Tyler Miknich took advantage of a poor line change by the Brahmas and broke out on a rush to slot in the goal through the five-hole, cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Bears were unable to capitalize on the momentum, however, and Lone Star regained a two-goal advantage 6:33 later with a goal from Steven Ipri.
“They got on a power play and it kind of took the wind out of our sails,” Petrich said. “They capitalized and we didn’t.”
While both sides failed to score in the third period, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Lone Star and Kenai River took on seven penalties for a combined 25 minutes.
Kenai River now faces a crucial four-game road trip that includes contests against division foes Coulee Region, Minnesota Magicians, Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and the Springfield Jr. Blues.
The Alaska Airlines weekend helped bring in the record audience, with two airline tickets given away during the second intermission. Brown Bears administrative assistant Lisa Zulkanycz said the 1,827 fans that showed up is a franchise record, to her knowledge.
“It was a great crowd, a fun environment,” Petrich said. “A lot of thanks goes to Alaska Airlines, that’s gonna get people in the door.”
Brahmas 4, Brown Bears 3
Lone Star 2 2 0 — 4
Kenai River 2 0 1 — 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Ezitis (Krajnik, Guillemain), 6:28; 2. Kenai River, Kaplan (Scahill, Posner), 7:23; 3. Lone Star, Russell (Addamo, Lennon), 11:21; 4. Lone Star, Russell (un.), pp, 17:30. Penalties — Lone Star 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. Lone Star, Addamo (Ipri, Russell), 1:50; 6. Lone Star, Ipri (Linden, Hallbauer), pp, 3:00. Penalties — Lone Star 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Komuls (Guillemain, Krajnik), 9:36. Penalties — Lone Star 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Lone Star 17-14-7—38; Kenai River 11-14-16—41.
Goalies — Lone Star, Feeney (6 shots, 4 saves), Gibson (35 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Enright (38 shots, 34 saves).
Power plays — Lone Star 2 for 3, Kenai River 0 for 4.
Brahmas 4, Brown Bears 1
Lone Star 2 2 0 —4
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Lone Star, Trazzera (Sirota, Montambault), 3:19; 2. Lone Star, Stuart (Ipri, Russell), 13:59. Penalties — Lone Stars 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Miknich (Wade), 5:58; 4. Lone Stars, Ipri (Russell), 12:31; 5. Lone Star, Spellacy (Pooley), 15:40. Penalties — Lone Star 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — no scoring. Penalties — Lone Star 4 for 16:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Power plays — Lone Star 0 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 6.