The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Topeka (Kansas) RoadRunners on Thursday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears are out of the playoff race and have announced they will take on inactive status when the season is over. Heading into the Topeka series, Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said the news of inactive status had definitely affected his team’s play.
But Kenai River was able to put all that aside to treat 232 fans to a victory.
“One thing we did as a scouting staff and as a coaching staff was to find better hockey players and better character players,” Worlton said. “The last couple of weeks have been bumpy and hard, but they’ve continued to listen to us, continued to watch film and continued to get better at doing everything right.”
The Bears are now 11-40-2-0 and in last place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division, while the RoadRunners are 16-30-4-1 and in last in the South Division. The same two teams play tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex. After the current series, the Bears have just two home games left.
Worlton said jumping on the ice after a short week of practice helped his team.
“Our guys really bought into keeping it simple, and that made a difference,” Worlton said.
Kenai River’s power play also made a difference, this time in the right direction. The unit had been terrible the previous weekend, going scoreless and giving up three short-handed goals.
With 10:44 left in the second period, Topeka committed a penalty and the Bears kept possession and got the extra man on the ice. Evan Butcher eventually found Jonathan Marzec, who snapped a shot under the pipe.
Then later in the second, Tyler Rock scored a rebound, power-play goal off assists from Ryan Mezera and Luke Radetic for a 2-0 lead.
Worlton said the Bears did not work on the power play at all this week.
“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you we did,” he said. “I just think the guys got tired of losing and were embarrassed. They were bearing down, being heavier on their sticks, winning more one on one battles and blocking shots.”
With 11:50 left in the third, John Wojciechowski scored for Topeka to turn up the heat on Kenai River.
“Whenever you’re coming off a losing streak, it’s always hard to get over that hump,” Worlton said. “They’re a good team, they compete and they wanted to win. It’s going to be tougher tomorrow.”
Robbie Goor, who finished with 34 saves, was able to hold Topeka down. RoadRunners goalie Ryan Snowden had 32 saves.
“We helped him more on the second shot and third shot, and did a better job clearing them,” Worlton said. “We were tying up sticks so he could find the rebound and cover it. He made the saves he had to.”
Ethan Stewart, assisted by Chris Lipe, clinched the game with an empty-netter with 1:05 to play.
Brown Bears 3, RoadRunners 1
Topeka 0 0 1 — 1
Kenai River 0 2 1 — 3
First period — none. Penalties — none.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Marzec (Butcher), 9:16; 2. Kenai River, Rock (Mezera, Radetic), pp, 16:08. Penalties — Topeka 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Topeka, Wojciechowski (Erickson, Cyr), 8:10; 4. Kenai River, Stewart (Lipe), en, 18:55. Penalties — Topeka 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Topeka 10-12-13—35; Kenai River 7-18-10—35.
Goalies — Topeka, Snowden (34 shots, 32 saves); Kenai River, Goor (35 shots, 34 saves).