The Kenai River Brown Bears shook off a pair of ugly losses to defeat the host Minnesota Magicians 3-1 on Thursday in North American Hockey League play.
Kenai River improves to 18-25-3-2 and is 13 points behind the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues in the race for the final playoff spot out of the Midwest Division. The Bears and Jets have 13 games left, while the Jr. Blues have 12 games left. The point system in the NAHL is two points for a win, one for a shootout or overtime loss, and no points for a loss.
“All the guys are playing for each other and playing unselfish hockey and doing what it takes to get the win,” Kenai River interim head coach Dan Bogdan said. “Coming down the stretch and not out of the playoffs, it’s important that we win games like this.
“It’s a testament to how hard they’ve been working all season. It’s good to see it come together.”
The Bears had been playing well, getting 11 points in seven games, before losing to the Jr. Blues 8-0 and 9-3 last weekend. Bogdan said after those games the losses had a lot to do with illness running through the team.
“It was nice to have everyone healthy again,” he said.
Minnesota outshot Kenai River 24-10 in the first two periods, but the Bears entered the third period tied at 1.
“I think the shots were a little off, if we’re really being honest, but I think we limited their quality opportunities,” Bogdan said. “We converted on our opportunities. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
Midway through the second period, the Bears took a 1-0 lead when Alex Klekotka, assisted by Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and Markuss Komuls, drove the net in transition on the power play. Jackson Jutting would draw the Magicians even before the end of the period.
With 3:04 left in the game, Justin Daly got to the net in transition and found Cody Moline on the back door for the game-winner.
“Those two work really well together and they’ve put in the work all season,” Bogdan said. “We’ve said all season as you continue to work you’ll get chances and goals, and those two have believed it. It was nice it paid off at such a pivotal time in the game.”
With just two seconds left, Logan Ritchie iced it with an empty-netter, assisted by Trey LaBarge.
Gavin Enright stopped 34 for the Bears, while Ethan Haider stopped 21 for the Magicians.
“That’s what’s been great about him this season,” Bogdan said of Enright. “When he shows up on his game, he gives us a chance to win every night.”
The Bears will practice today before playing Minnesota again at 4 p.m. AST on Saturday.
Brown Bears 3, Magicians 1
Kenai River 0 1 2 — 3
Minnesota 0 1 0 — 1
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Klekotka (Krajnik, Komuls), pp, 11:18; 2. Minnesota, Jutting (Konin, Wirth), 15:56. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Moline (Daly), 16:56; 4. Kenai River, Ritchie (LeBarge), en, 19:58. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 5-5-14—24; Minnesota 12-12-11—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (35 shots, 34 saves); Minnesota, Haider (24 shots, 21 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Minnesota 0 for 2.