The Kenai River Brown Bears earned a split with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League action in Wisconsin.
The Bears notched a 4-3 overtime win Friday before falling 2-0 on Saturday.
Kenai River is now 1-3-0, while the Midwest Division rival Jets move to 1-0-1. Fairbanks, which beat the Minnesota Wilderness on Friday and Saturday, leads the division at 4-0-0.
Friday, Jack Gessert became the all-time leading goal scorer for the Bears in style.
Gessert notched a hat trick, including scoring the game-winner in overtime, in the victory.
Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said he had challenged Gessert this week to lead by example and be a 20-year-old that can take control of games.
“It’s pretty special,” Beauparlant said. “He responded to the challenge put forth this week and he didn’t do it alone.
“He didn’t have to do it alone. It was a good team win.”
The Jets were the top NAHL team in the regular season last year, but the Brown Bears ruined Janesville’s 2015-16 debut Friday.
The Jets outshot the Bears 40-20 and had a 3-1 lead midway through the second period, but Kenai River, which had the league’s worst record last season, was up to the challenge.
“We found a way, and that’s what good teams do,” Beauparlant said.
Gessert, on assists from Justin Bofshever and Gunnar Goodmanson, scored with 5 minutes, 45 seconds, left in the first period for a 1-1 game.
It was the 42nd goal of Gessert’s career, putting him ahead of the 41 of Brad Duwe, the Soldotna High School product and current University of Alaska Anchorage skater.
But Janesville would go up 3-1 before Bofshever, assisted by Gessert, cut it to 3-2 with 1:32 left in the second period.
Gessert tied the game up midway through the third on assists from Bofshever and Joey Sardina.
Then, 2:58 into the five-minute, three-on-three overtime, Gessert, assisted by Bofshever, was able to stuff the winner under the pads of Jets goalie Jack LaFontaine.
Bofshever is a free agent that came to the Bears after he was cut by the Jets.
“He’s a great young kid,” Beauparlant said. “He can make plays and he’s jelled quickly with that line.”
Brian Baker made 37 saves to claim his first win for the Bears.
“He had a solid night,” Beauparlant said. “He made two big saves when they were on the power play and we had made it 3-2.
“He also stopped a breakaway earlier in the second to keep it 3-1.”
The coach also said the line of Sardina, Evan Butcher and Tanner Dufault played great minutes.
Dufault was obtained this week from the Austin (Minnesota) Bruins for a third-round draft pick.
“Our closeness is growing,” Beauparlant said. “Chemistry is always a process.
“I think Janesville played a great hockey game tonight. They’re a great hockey club. In this division, it’s going to be a battle night in and night out.”
Saturday, the Jets were able to make a second-period goal by Rob Marsanico stand up.
Nils Rygaard iced the game with an empty-netter with 16 seconds left.
Baker made 36 saves for the Bears, while LaFontaine had 15 saves for the Jets.
“I thought they controlled the first two periods,” Beauparlant said. “Our goaltending was really, really strong. Brian was out there and did an unbelievable job between the pipes to keep us in it.”
Beauparlant said his squad turned it up in the third period, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
“I think we just lacked energy in the first two periods,” he said. “That’s part of the learning process. It’s hard to win two games in a tough environment on the road.”
The coach said Gessert was good again. He said he thought Gessert was the best player on the ice, and college scouts in attendance agreed.
Beauparlant added that Adam Kresl, playing in his home state of Wisconsin, won about 75 percent of his faceoffs on the weekend. The coach also said Sam Carlson bounced back with a solid game of creating chaos around the net.
This week, the Bears also obtained forward Ezekial Estrada. Estrada had been in training camp with the Portland Winterhawks of the major junior Western Hockey League. He decided not to play in that league because it would mean giving up his college eligibility.
The Bears have also completed a trade that sent Tanner Schachle to the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Kenai River had placed Schachle and fellow Wasilla skater Colton Fletcher on suspension this summer.
Beauparlant has said he won’t discuss the reason for the suspension until both are traded. The coach said Friday a trade has yet to be finalized for Fletcher.
Brown Bears 4, Jets 3, OT
Kenai River 1 1 1 1 —4
Janesville 2 1 0 0 —3
First period — 1. Janesville, Smits (Winborg), 0:48; 2. Kenai River, Gessert (Bofshever, Goodmanson), 14:15; 3. Janesville, Rutkowski (Rygaard, Winborg), 17:26. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Janesville, Munson (Sundberg, Rutkowski), pp, 9:26; 5. Kenai River, Bofshever (Gessert), 18:28. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Gessert (Bofshever, Sardina), 10:27. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Janesville 3 for 6:00.
Overtime — 7. Kenai River, Gessert (Bofshever), 2:58.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 5-6-7-2—20; Janesville 12-15-11-2—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Baker (40 shots, 37 saves); Janesville, LaFontaine (20 shots, 16 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3, Janesville 1 for 4.
Jets 2, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Janesville 0 1 1 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 14:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Janesville, Marsanico (Smith), 10:46. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 2. Janesville, Rygaard, en, un, 19:44. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-2-9—15; Janesville 18-14-6—38.
Goalies — Kenai River, Baker (37 shots, 36 saves); Janesville, LaFontaine (15 shots, 15 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2, Janesville 0 for 4.