The visiting Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Minnesota Wilderness 1-0 in a shootout Saturday in North American Hockey League play at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.
The Brown Bears had lost to the Wilderness in a shootout Friday, so the Bears come out of the series on the road with one of the top teams in the division with three points.
Kenai River moves to 19-14-1-1 and stays in third in the Midwest Division with 40 points. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs pace the division with 43 points, while the Wilderness (19-10-1-3) are in second place with 42 points.
The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets control the fourth and final division playoff spot with 39 points, but right behind are the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel with 36 and the Wisconsin Windigo and Anchorage Wolverines with 34 each.
The Bears play Friday and Saturday at Fairbanks.
“The shootout came into existence more for the fans,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “But that extra point really matters, and it’s really going to matter in a month or two.”
Shaw said his team controlled play through the first half of the game. The Bears outshot the Wilderness 20-10 through the first two periods. The Bears won the shot count 32-25 for the game.
“I thought the group came out and quite frankly at times dominated play,” Shaw said. “It turned into a goalie dual. Both goalies played really well.”
The Bears’ Nils Wallstrom was able to turn in 25 saves to win against Isak Posch and his 31 saves. Posch is committed to Division I St. Cloud State University.
In Friday’s shootout loss, Wallstrom allowed both Wilderness shooters to score.
“We challenge Nils last night, just in terms of the shootout,” Shaw said. “Nils came up big tonight.”
Saturday, Wallstrom was able to stop Oliver Stumpel and Gunnar Thoreson, but allowed a goal to Kevin Marx Noren. Ryan Finch and Hunter Newhouse scored for the Bears, with Posch stopping Parker Lockwood of Kenai.
Shaw also thought his team took some dumb penalties Friday, so he was happy the team received just six minutes in the penalty box Saturday.
“We’re aware our group plays hard and is going to take penalties,” Shaw said. “At the same time, we’ve been taking our fair share of dumb penalties. Our goal every night is six minutes or less.”
Kenai River’s roster was a bit thin before the holiday break, but the Bears have filled in those holes. Owen Hanson is back from the United States Hockey League, while Kotaro Tsutsumi is back from a World Junior tournament.
Caleb Huffman is now playing for Division I University of Alaska Anchorage, but Kenai River was able to acquire defenseman Jake Howard from the Danbury (Connecticut) Jr. Hat Tricks. Howard is in his second season in the NAHL.
“We’re super excited,” Shaw said of Howard. “He’s a good kid. Nobody is going to replace Caleb Huffman, but if guys go out each night and play their role, we’ll be all right.”
Brown Bears 1, Wilderness 0, SO
Kenai River 0 0 0 0 1 —1
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 0 —0
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 2 (Lockwood NG, Finch G, Newhouse G); Minnesota 1 (Stumpel NG, Marx Noren G, Thoreson NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 14-6-9-2—31; Minnesota 6-4-13-2—25.
Goalies — Kenai River, Wallstrom (25 shots, 25 saves); Minnesota, Posch (31 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Minnesota 0 for 3.