The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Wisconsin Windigo 6-4 on Friday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears came from behind three times — once trailing by two goals — in order to snap a five-game losing streak.
“I just said to the group, ‘That’s called being resilient right there,’” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “We gave up a couple goals we probably shouldn’t have, but what I liked about the group is they were, ‘We just gotta work.’
“I think it showed on the ice. We were getting chances, especially in the second period, when we had quite a few odd-man rushes.”
The Bears are now 6-6-1-0, good for 13 points and a tie for fourth place in the Midwest Division with the Windigo, who also are 6-6-1-0.
The Minnesota Wilderness lead the division with 18 points, while the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel and Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets are tied for second with 16 points. The Anchorage Wolverines and Fairbanks Ice Dogs have 12, while the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues have eight.
The Windigo, now the losers of four straight, and Bears play again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex.
Part of Kenai River’s losing streak was 9-2 and 10-3 losses to the Windigo in Wisconsin on Sept. 29 and 30.
“We had this one circled for a while after the last time we played them,” said Kenai River forward Andy Larson, who had a pair of goals. “We just gave it all we got, and we knew we could win this one.”
The game did not start well for the Bears, with Maxwell Martin getting moving on a hat trick by scoring just 1:07 into the contest.
Larson, assisted by Kotaro Tsutsumi and Nick Stevens, evened the score a little over a minute and a half later. When Tyler Grahme scored with 11:39 left in the period for Wisconsin, Shaw pulled goalie Conor Sullivan.
Peter Wickstrom Stumer, who recently committed to Division I Canisius, stepped in for the Bears.
“We knew we needed a win,” Shaw said. “To go down 2-1 that early, I think it was probably on the first two shots, we needed something to swing the momentum and refocus up.”
Martin scored just 39 seconds into the second period for a 3-1 lead as both teams kept trading chances. Shaw and Wisconsin head coach Blake Hietala were both fine with that, for the most part.
“I feel like we have a team that can get up and down the ice,” Hietala said. “I’d probably like us to be more responsible defensively than we were tonight.
“It was a good first couple periods. We’ve got to find a way to close out a game.”
Shaw also didn’t mind the back-and-forth action. During the five-game losing streak, the Bears scored only eight goals, but the coach said the offense is better than that.
“We’re a little bit different team than last year, last year I would have said, ‘No way,’” Shaw said of trading chances. “This year we have a little bit more skill, so we’re able to capitalize more.”
With 17:58 left in the second, Jackson Ebbott, assisted by Roope Tuomioksa and Dylan Contreras, scored the first of three power-play goals on the night for the Bears.
“We were shooting pucks,” Shaw said. “We were moving it, and even after we’d shoot pucks, we hunted pucks down to retain possession.”
With 12:25 left in the second period, Stevens, assisted by Ebbott and Contreras, drew the Bears even at 3.
Wisconsin grabbed yet another lead with 13:30 left in the game when Martin completed his hat trick with a power-play goal.
With 7:12 left to play, the Bears struck again on the power play when Tuomioksa scored on assists from Tsutsumi and Contreras.
With 5:19 to play, Tiziano Pauchard of the Bears got two minutes for roughing, but Adam Timm of the Windigo got a five-minute major for cross-checking.
“We’ll have to see the clip, but obviously we can’t take a five-minute major at that time of the game,” Hietala said. “Even if we get through the four-on-four fine, we’ve still got the last three minutes on the kill.”
In the ensuing four-on-four, Larson, assisted by Tsutsumi, scored with 4:32 left.
The game was a big step forward for Larson, who put on 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason but is adjusting to carrying that much more weight on the ice.
“I’m starting to get my feet under me,” he said. “I gained some weight and muscle, so I’m starting to be the old me again.”
In the scramble of the extended, three-minute power play after the two minutes of four-on-four, the Bears didn’t even have one of their two power-play units on the ice when Joe Manning scored the teams’ third power-play goal with 2:46 left. Rylan Yates and Hayden Walters assisted.
“We just had a regular line with two D out there,” Shaw said. “We were just waiting for a whistle.”
Linards Lipskis had 26 saves on 20 shots for the Windigo, while Stumer had 22 saves on 24 shots.
“I thought he commanded the net,” Shaw said of Stumer. “He made some big saves in the second period when we got jammed up a bit.”