The Kenai River Brown Bears broke an eight-game pointless streak with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Saturday, the second period was costly as the Bears were outscored 4-1 in a 4-1 loss to the Jr. Blues in front of 495.
The Bears are now 3-42-2, while the Blues are 25-16-5, moving into third place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division over the weekend.
As much as Bears head coach Jeff Worlton would have liked a win Friday, a point means a competitive hockey game and with the team’s record, competitive is progress.
He said Friday’s contest was the best of his 13-game tenure.
“I thought we played really well for 60 minutes,” Worlton said. “Our penalty kill was good, our power play could have been better.
“We competed for 60 minutes and we’re learning to win.”
Springfield coach Tony Zasowski agreed.
“They come out and work every time,” Zasowski said of the Bears. “They battled for the full 60 minutes.”
For the first time, the 365 in attendance got to see the new three-on-three overtime format and three-round shootout that was adopted at the beginning of the season.
While the Blues have been through seven overtimes and then five shootouts, the Bears have been through just three overtimes. Friday was their first shootout this season.
Zasowski used the experience to his advantage when he sent out Joey Lupo and Anthony Scarsella for the first two shots. Both beat Kenai River goalie Nick Nast.
“Those two are our one-two punch in every shootout,” Zasowski said.
Joey Sardina beat Springfield tender Niko Della Maggorie in the second round to cut the gap to 2-1, but when the Blues’ Sam Craggs and the Bears’ Austin Junger missed in the third round, the game was over.
The game was a bit of a goaltender’s duel, with Nast making 38 saves and Della Maggorie stopping 31.
The first period was a tale of breakaways. Della Maggorie stopped Sardina on a breakaway when the puck hit the knob on the goalie’s stick.
With 1 minute, 21 seconds, left in the period, Luke Radetic converted a breakaway for the Blues.
The second period was scoreless thanks to Nast.
“I can’t say enough about their goaltender,” Zasowski said. “In the second period, we thought we had two or three sure goals that he robbed us on.”
With 3:28 to play in the third, Tommy Bowe tied the game on what appeared to be a harmless shot from the blue line. Zasowski said his goaltender told him the puck took an awkward bounce in front of the net.
Bowe, a Homer High School graduate, began the year with the Bears but was traded after the first four games. He celebrated his return with the first goal of his NAHL career.
“We always preach putting everything on net and going to the net,” Worlton said. “Simple hockey.”
The coach added the tactic continued to pay off in the following minutes, as the Bears had several good shots at the game-winner.
But Della Maggorie, a veteran in his last year of junior eligibility, stood strong after Bowe’s goal all the way through the shootout.
“He’s a 95, an old goalie,” Worlton said. “He settled in and played well.”
Saturday saw Kenai River miss out on four power-play opportunities in the first period.
“We hit posts, we missed the net,” Worlton said. “If we’re able to score a goal on one of those power plays, the way we were playing, I think the outcome would have been different.”
In the second, Matt Long and Brennan Blaszczak had the Blues up 2-0 after just more than three minutes. When Connor Inger, on an assist from Collin Appleton, cut the lead to 2-1, Trevor Stone and Nathan Viberg had the Blues up less than a minute and a half after Inger’s tally.
“We took off 10 minutes of the second period,” Worlton said. “We quit working.”
Worlton pulled Nast after the fourth goal.
“He didn’t play very well,” Worlton said. “He could have played better. He struggled today.”
The Bears host the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Jr. Blues 2, Brown Bears 1
Springfield 1 0 0 0 1 —2
Kenai River 0 0 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Springfield, Radetic (Skinner), 18:39. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 2. Kenai River, Bowe (Hartje), 16:32. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shootout — Springfield 2 (Lupo G, Scarsella G, Craggs NG); Kenai River 1 (Inger NG, Sardina G, Junger NG).
Shots on goal — Springfield — 11-12-11-5—39; Kenai River 10-5-14-3—32.
Goalies — Springfield, Della Maggorie (32 shots, 31 saves); Kenai River, Nast (39 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Springfield 0 for 6; Kenai River 0 for 3.
Jr. Blues 4, Brown Bears 1
Springfield 0 4 0 —4
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Springfield 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Springfield, Long (Lupo), 1:34; 2. Springfield, Blaszczak (Tomiak, Fear), 3:04; 3. Kenai River, Inger (Appleton), 8:07; 4. Springfield, Stone (Sabatini), 9:13; 5. Springfied, Viberg (Craggs), 9:33. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 11-15-7—33; Kenai River 7-9-11—27.
Goalies — Springfield, Nappier (27 shots, 26 saves); Kenai River, Nast, Lindhe (33 shots, 29 saves).