Kenai River Brown Bears forward Ryan Finch splits Evan Tanos and Gavin Best of the Minnesota Magicians on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Ryan Finch splits Evan Tanos and Gavin Best of the Minnesota Magicians on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears, Magicians split weekend series

The Kenai River Brown Bears split a weekend series with the Minnesota Magicians in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The Bears defeated the Magicians 7-5 on Friday before dropping a 4-2 decision Saturday.

The Magicians are now 21-18-4-3 and tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Midwest Division. The Bears are 12-32-3-2 and in last place in the Midwest.

The Brown Bears now take a week off before hosting the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the sports complex on March 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, the Brown Bears held on for the 7-5 victory.

Friday’s third period was filled with penalties, with Minnesota taking nine for 34 minutes and the Brown Bears taking 13 for 50 minutes.

Kenai River went into the final period with a 5-3 lead and Bears interim head coach Taylor Shaw said it said a lot his team was able to maintain the lead despite the penalties. The coach said at one point, Kenai River had four defensemen in the penalty box, so two forwards had to play on defense, and even kill off a penalty.

“When the bench got shorter, guys got called on to do things they normally don’t do,” Shaw said. “They found a way to do it, and that’s how you win games. That’s huge.”

The Bears have been a long shot to make the playoffs for a while now, but Shaw said his team has responded well to that. He said players still realize the ultimate goal is to move up to the United States Hockey League or the NCAA.

“In order to do that, they have to keep doing a job,” Shaw said. “It’s a culture that they still have a job to do, and until the season’s over, they’re still going to come to work every day.”

Shaw said that with many players in their last seasons of junior eligibility traded, current players also know they are laying groundwork for Kenai River next season. Shaw said the biggest thing the players have to learn is how to collectively use their speed.

Ryan Finch led the way for the Bears on Friday with two goals.

“Finch has been playing well because he’s using his speed,” Shaw said. “That’s what this group has been built for. They’re fast and they’re good when they use that speed. But when you’re younger, you have to learn to do it consistently.”

Minnesota jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals by Trevor Kukkonen and Mason Campbell, but Kenai River then scored five unanswered goals — two by Finch and one each from Hunter Newhouse, Caden Triggs and Kevin Enriquez. The flurry gave the Bears a 5-2 lead with 13:10 left in the second period.

The Magicians came back with goals from Cole Schneider and Hunter Longhi to cut it to 5-4 with 17:15 left in the game. Kaden Hjelm scored for the Bears, but Evan Tanos made it 6-5 with 9:48 left. Bryce Monrean scored an empty-netter with 1:52 left to secure the victory.

Bryant Marks made 37 saves for the Bears, while Josh Seeley stopped 28 for Minnesota. Marks, 17, of Wasilla, was playing his second straight game after not playing for a month. Shaw said Marks is learning to trust the process of playing at this level, and it’s nice to see it paying off.

Saturday, Triggs, assisted by Finch and Tyler Behl, gave the Bears a 1-0 lead after the first period with a power-play goal.

Minnesota came back to take a 2-1 lead after the second period on goals by Gavin Best and Longhi.

With 14:14 left in the game, Nick Stevens, assisted by Colin Doherty and Triggs, scored to draw the Bears even.

Longhi got the game-winner with 4:21 left in the game. Lucas Kanta added a late empty-netter.

Josh Langford stopped 36 to get the win for Minnesota, while Levi Gho had 37 saves for the Bears.

Friday

Brown Bears 7, Magicians 5

Minnesota 2 1 2 —5

Kenai River 3 2 2 —7

First period — 1. Minnesota, Kukkonen (Jacobs, Svenddal), pp, 5:18; 2. Minnesota, Campbell (Tanos, Mahony), 7:47; 3. Kenai River, Newhouse (Monrean, Holt), 9:16; 4. Kenai River, Finch (Henry, Ostbloom), 17:25; 5. Kenai River, Triggs (Braslavski, Marquette), pp, 19:48. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Second period — 6. Kenai River, Finch (Ostbloom, Braslavski), 5:01; 7. Kenai River, Enriquez (Newhouse, Monrean), 6:50; 8. Minnesota, Schneider (Babbie, Mahony), 8:35. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 4:00.

Third period — 9. Minnesota, Longhi (Jacobs), 2:45; 10. Kenai River, Hjelm (Lockwood, Cloutier), 6:12; 11. Minnesota, Tanos (Svenddal), 10:12; 12. Kenai River, Monrean (Holt), en, 18:08. Penalties — Minnesota 9 for 34:00; Kenai River 13 for 50:00.

Shots on goal — Minnesota 12-14-16—42; Kenai River 13-11-11—35.

Goalies — Minnesota, Seeley (34 shots, 28 saves); Kenai River, Marks (42 shots, 37 saves).

Power plays — Minnesota 1 for 2; Kenai River 1 for 2.

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Noah Holt and Minnesota Magicians forward Samuel Jacobs battle for the puck Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Noah Holt and Minnesota Magicians forward Samuel Jacobs battle for the puck Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Nick Stevens and Minnesota Magicians defenseman Evan Tanos battle for the puck in front of Minnesota Magicians goalie Josh Seeley on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Nick Stevens and Minnesota Magicians defenseman Evan Tanos battle for the puck in front of Minnesota Magicians goalie Josh Seeley on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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