By JEFF HELMINIAK
Back in Alaska for the first time since decamping for Pennsylvania at the end of the 2011-12 season, the Johnstown Tomahawks franchise made itself right at home Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The franchise, which played in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys starting in the 2005-06 season, got 41 saves from Ryan Bednard in claiming a 3-1 victory in front of 457.
In losing their eighth-straight game, the Bears fall to 13-34-2 and are now five points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the race for the final playoff slot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
Johnstown, at 21-20-6, strengthened its hold on fourth place in the North Division.
Bednard is on the NHL Central Scouting list and also will be a member of the NAHL Selects team at the Top Prospects Tournament on Monday and Tuesday.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder, who is already committed to Division I Bowling Green State University, played up to his credentials Friday.
“We think he gives us a chance to win every night,” said Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia. “When we’re not playing that well, like tonight, he keeps us in the game.”
The Bears outshot the Tomahawks 42-27 for the game.
“I think he played well, but I don’t know that we challenged him enough,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “He made the saves he had to make.”
Beauparlant said the Tomahawks did a great job of clogging up the area in front of the goal. Many of the Brown Bears shots were blocked by Johnstown players or went wide of the mark.
“When you block a lot of shots, it means the other team has the puck too much,” Letizia said. “The guys were giving themselves up for the team, and I’m proud of them for doing that.”
While Johnstown did not create a ton of great chances, the Tomahawks capitalized on most of those they did create. In the second, the Tomahawks lost on shots 14-7 but won on goals 3-0.
The squad from Pennsylvania struck first with 10 minutes, 9 seconds, left in the second period, when Tanner Barnes fed Zac Robbins for a power-play goal.
“The power-play marker was a big-time swing in the game,” Beauparlant said.
The coach said the goal threw the Bears off their game for a bit, and Johnstown capitalized less than four minutes later on a Barnes goal.
Finally, with 22 seconds left in the period, Barnes and Alger broke out on a two-on-one, with Alger scoring.
The two-on-one move happened after a defensemen made an aggressive cut to the goal in the Johnstown end. Beauparlant said that’s normally a good play, but not in the final minute of the second period of a 2-0 game.
“We talk about situation management and that was a situation we didn’t manage well,” he said. “There’s a big difference going into the third period 2-0 as opposed to 3-0.”
The Bears recovered for a solid third period in which Alex Jackstadt found the back of the net, but Bednard would allow no more.
The same two teams play at 7 p.m. tonight at the sports complex. The starting time has been moved up to allow Beauparlant and the players to catch a flight for the top prospects tournament.
Tomahawks 3, Brown Bears 1
Johnstown 0 3 0 —3
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Johnstown, Robbins (Barnes, Spencer), pp, 9:51; 2. Johnstown, Barnes (Alger, Robbins), 14:33; 3. Johnstown, Alger (Barnes, Linkenheld), 19:38. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Solow, Gessert), 5:23. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Johnstown 12-7-8—27; Kenai River 17-14-11—42.
Goalies — Johnstown, Bednard (42 shots, 41 saves); Kenai River, Hauser (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Johnstown 1 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 3.