On a late March Friday night last season, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Knights came to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex and defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 4-2, with two power-play goals serving as the difference.
Friday, the Knights topped the Bears 3-2 in North American Hockey League play, and once again the problem was Dan Kowal and the power play. And just to prove someone somewhere has a sense of humor, the Bears won 4-3 Saturday in a shootout, just like they followed up March’s Friday loss with a shootout victory.
The Bears are now 13-27-1-2, surpassing last year’s win total, while the Knights are 21-13-5-1. Kenai River hosts the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the sports complex.
Overall, Brown Bears coach Josh Petrich was happy with the weekend, dedicated to cancer awareness. Barry Schoenly, founder of the Brown Bears and a cancer survivor, addressed the team before Saturday’s game.
“I told the boys, 60 minutes for someone affected by cancer you know,” Petrich said. “They stepped up tonight and gave 67 minutes or whatever it was. I couldn’t be more proud of the group.”
The difference in Friday’s game was WBS had a power-play goal and Kenai River did not. Dan is the father of Knights coach Tom Kowal, who grew up in Anchorage.
Dan spent three years as an assistant of the then-Anchorage Aces and Tom turned a power play that is ranked 21st in the league over to his father before Friday’s game, just as he had before last March’s Friday game.
Dan again carried the day.
“I’ve got to hire the guy,” Tom joked.
That power-play goal that would be Friday’s difference was the lone tally in the first period. In the second period, the Bears took the lead when Filip Karlsson scored on assists from Gil Garcia and new acquisition Lukas Millen of Anchorage, and Eagle River’s Sutton McDonald scored with help from Luke Posner and Michael Spethmann.
But a little over three minutes later, Gabe Temple drove the net and forced Bears goalie Gavin Enright to scramble and make a save. Tomas Koblizek was there to tie the game with a rebound.
“I think we’ve done well with that this year,” Kowal said of his team’s response to getting behind. “We don’t give up.”
On the flip side, Kenai River has not done well lately when getting the lead. Petrich said his team relaxed after getting ahead.
“We’re not closing out games,” he said. “It’s getting frustrating. In five of the seven losses, we haven’t been able to hold onto the lead.”
WBS took the lead for good 2 minutes, 27 seconds, into the third period. This time, Mike Gelatt created chaos by getting to the net and Temple trickled home the rebound from a tricky angle. Kowal said young players saved the Knights on Friday, most notably Temple, a 17-year-old committed to Division I Michigan Tech.
“We haven’t been scoring shooting lately, but sometimes if you do the right things, good things happen,” Kowal said of the successful forays to the net.
The Knights had to kill off a couple of power plays to preserve the win, but their penalty kill, ranked third in the league, was up to the task against the Bears’ seventh-ranked unit. Kowal credited former Bears assistant and current WBS assistant Andrew Whiteside for holding the Bears to 0 for 6 on the power play.
“I’ve been happy with our power play and our play in general,” Petrich said. “We’ve been getting chances. We just have to start capitalizing on those chances.”
The Bears outshot the Knights, with Enright making 26 saves and WBS goalie David Tomeo stopping 32.
Saturday, it was Kenai River that won the special teams battle and the game, with the Bears finishing 2 for 4 on the power play, while the Knights were 0 for 1.
“The big thing tonight was the goals were gritty,” Petrich said. “They really got after it and I can’t be more proud of the guys.”
The Bears came back from deficits three times. A little over a minute into the game, Matthew Kidney scored for WBS, but David Kaplan came back a little over a minute later. Curtis Carlson would put the Knights up just two minutes later, but Joe Rosa answered on the power play four minutes later.
“(Goalie) Kevin Lake really got off to a shaky start but he battled through,” Petrich said. “A couple guys got off to shaky starts but battled through.”
In the second, Mike Gelatt scored for WBS, but Gil Garcia answered for Kenai River. Lake then slammed the door in the third period and overtime, then stopped all three WBS shooters in the shootout. Sacha Guillemain had the game-winner for Kenai River.
“Sacha is so skilled and has so many slick moves,” Petrich said. “I think he’s only missed one time this year in the shootout.”
Tomeo and Christian Stoever combined to make 37 saves for the Knights, while Kevin Lake stopped 32 for Kenai River, meaning the Bears outshot the Knights in both games.
Knights 3, Brown Bears 2
WBS 1 1 1 — 3
Kenai River 0 2 0 — 2
First period — 1. WBS, Carlson (Kidney, Firrolo), pp, 7:37. Penalties — WBS 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Karlsson (Garcia, Millen), 6:59; 3. Kenai River, S. McDonald (Posner, Spethmann), 16:43; 4. WBS, Koblicek (Temple), 18:38. Penalties — WBS 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. WBS, Temple (Gelatt), 2:27. Penalties — WBS 4 for 16:00; Kenai River 6 for 34:00.
Shots on goal — WBS 10-10-9—29; Kenai River 8-10-16—34.
Goalies — WBS, Tomeo (34 shots, 32 saves); Kenai River, Enright (29 shots, 26 saves).
Power plays — WBS 1 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 6.
Brown Bears 4, Knights 3, SO
WBS 2 1 0 0 0 — 3
Kenai River 2 1 0 0 1 — 4
First period — 1. WBS, Kidney (Carlson, Robinson), 1:01; 2. Kenai River (un.), 2:03; 3. WBS, Carlson (Engelkes, Kidney), 4:02; 4. Kenai River, Rosa (Posner), pp, 8:03. Penalties — WBS 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. WBS, Gelatt (Bronte), 2:34; 6. Kenai River, Garcia (Karlsson), pp, 6:29. Penalties — WBS 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — WBS 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — WBS 0 (Engelkes NG, Carlson NG, Kidney NG); Kenai River 1 (Ezitis NG, Guillemain G).
Shots on goal — WBS 9 -14-11-1—35; Kenai River 10-13-14-3—40.