The Kenai River Brown Bears split with the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays this weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, winning 5-1 on Friday before falling 5-1 on Saturday.
The Bears (15-23-2-2) are 14 points out of a playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The IceRays (22-22-1-0) are four points in the clear for the final playoff spot in the South Division.
The Bears now go on the road to face the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, the Bears finally broke a scoring slump.
Kenai River showed signs of breaking from a scoring slump on Feb. 1 and 2, when they snapped a six-game losing streak with a sweep of Topeka.
Still, the Bears had four goals in six regular periods and an overtime in that series.
Friday, the team had one of its best offensive nights of the season in winning a third straight.
The Bears had 17 skaters and two goalies Friday and 12 of those skaters got on the scoresheet in an offensive outburst for a team tied for the second fewest goals in the league.
“Practice has been more fun and more creative,” said Eagle River’s Connor Canterbury. “When practice is creative, it’s really helping us be creative in the games. We’re having more fun.”
Here’s some stats on the scoring splurge:
• The Bears reached five goals at home for the first time all season.
• The Bears have scored five or more goals five times this season, but two of those came in the first two games of the season.
• The Bears matched their biggest winning goal differential of the season, tying a 4-0 victory over the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Oct. 5 at the sports complex.
• The Bears scored five goals for the first time since a 5-4 victory over the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Dec. 28.
In recent weeks, Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said his team was putting itself in the right position to score, but not executing when the opportunity was there.
“We’ve worked hard on execution,” Petrich said. “That’s been the odd one out.”
All the goals Friday came on nicely executed plays:
• In the first period, Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik carried the puck and found Connor Scahill for a one-timer from the left faceoff circle.
• In the second, JJ Boucher got Markuss Komuls the puck in the slot and Michael Spethmann slotted home the rebound of Komuls’ shot.
• In the third, Canterbury carried the puck all the way up the left side before finding Logan Ritchie on the back door.
• In the third, Komuls split the defense and drove the net hard, with Krajnik cleaning up the rebound.
• Cody Moline then assisted on an empty-netter by Justin Daly.
“It’s belief,” Petrich said. “We’re starting to believe in what we’re trying to do. We were a really scary team the first 12 games of the season and we can be pretty scary if we start to believe again.”
Petrich said the win still was tough. The Bears led 2-0 entering the third, but the IceRays’ Brian Kramer scored just 1 minute, 42 seconds into the period.
Less than three minutes later, though, Canterbury made the nice play to Ritchie. Petrich said Ritchie had missed the blocked shot on the goal, so it was nice to see him come back and make amends on his next shift.
Corpus Christi actually outshot Kenai River 32-26, but Bears goalie Gavin Enright saw his team through the rough patches.
“Gavin is amazing,” Canterbury said. “Without Gavin, it’s hard to say where we would be. It’s a team effort, but Gavin has kept us in a lot of the games.”
The IceRays have now lost seven of eight. IceRays coach Ryan Cruthers said his team has exceeded expectations, but has forgotten how much hard work that took. Cruthers called his team’s play Friday horrible.
“That was a team tonight that wanted to make the playoffs,” Cruthers said of the Bears. “We were a team happy with college commitments and having fun.”
Saturday, Spethmann scored just 1:12 into the game, but after that it was all Corpus Christi. Brian George made 26 saves for the win, while Enright stopped 25 in the loss.
“We just didn’t bring it tonight,” Kenai River assistant Dan Bogdan said. “The effort wasn’t there.”
Brown Bears 5, IceRays 1
Corpus Christi 0 0 1 — 1
Kenai River 1 1 3 — 5
First period — 1. Kenai River, Scahill (Krajnik, A. Walker), 8:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Spethmann (Komuls, Boucher), 15:59. Penalties — Corpus Christi 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Corpus Christi, Kramer (Seitz), 1:42; 4. Kenai River, Ritchie (Canterbury, Klekotka), 4:12; 5. Kenai River, Krajnik (Komuls, Scahill), 8:56; 6. Kenai River, Daly (Moline, Poellinger), en, 15:55. Penalties — Corpus Christi 3 for 14:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Corpus Christi 12-7-13—32; Kenai River 5-12-9—26.
Goalies — Corpus Christi, Vyletelka (26 shots, 21 saves); Kenai River, Enright (32 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Corpus Christi 0 for 3; Kenai River 0 for 3.
IceRays 5, Brown Bears 1
Corpus Christi 1 3 1 — 5
Kenai River 1 0 0 — 1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Spethmann (Boucher, Krajnik), 1:12; 2. Corpus Christi, Johnson (un.), 8:42. Penalties — Corpus Christi 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Corpus Christi, Krivokrasov (Seitz), 0:39; 4. Corpus Christi, Yurkins (Bennett), 6:13; 5. Corpus Christi, Stella (Kramer), pp, 8:22. Penalties — Corpus Christi 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 6. Corpus Christi (Firriolo), 3:08. Penalites — Corpus Christi 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Corpus Christi 7-12-11—30; Kenai River 10-5-12—27.
Goalies — Corpus Christi, George (27 shots, 26 saves); Kenai River, Enright (30 shots, 25 saves).