The Kenai River Brown Bears finished 1-2 in a three-game series against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel, finishing the series with a 3-2 win Saturday at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Bears were playing in Blaine because they are on their way to Alaska for the first time this season. Kenai River hosts the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on April 16 and 17 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears will have eight games at their Soldotna home before finishing the regular season with a pair of games on the road against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Kenai River fans will get a in-person look at the Bears trying to wrap up their first postseason berth since the 2013-14 season. Last season, the Bears were rapidly closing in on a playoff spot when the season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bears currently have the fourth and final playoff spot out of the Midwest Division with a 16-20-1-1 record, good for 34 points. The Steel are chasing that final playoff spot, with a 10-19-2-2 record, good for 24 points.
The Steel will have plenty of opportunities to make up that gap. Not only do the Steel play five more games down the stretch, but they also get three more games against Kenai River.
“It puts some weight on our shoulders to do ourselves a favor if we want to make the playoffs,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said.
The coach said he hopes returning home for the first time all season will buoy the efforts.
“Hopefully getting back up there and getting in a more normal routine with a home locker room and home ice will help carry us over the final 10 games of the season,” Murdock said.
Saturday, Laudon Poellinger got the Bears started with a goal in the first period, but the Steel scored in the second so the teams went to the third tied at 1.
With 6:33 left in the game, Lucas Wahlin put the Bears ahead. Wahlin now has eight goals in his last seven games, giving him 14 goals in 37 games this season.
“It was a rebound garbage goal,” Murdock said. “He had to battle through sticks and bodies and took a beating in the process.”
Shayne Tomlinson then put Kenai River up 3-1 with 4:38 to play before Chippewa cut the gap to 3-2 with 2:27 left. The goal, Tomlinson’s first with the Brown Bears, would prove to be the game-winner. The chance was created when Tomlinson’s linemate created a turnover.
“It was a really nice, confident, move, especially considering he hadn’t had a goal in the league,” Murdock said.
Luke Pavicich stopped 22 for the Bears, while Berk Berkeliev saved 22 for the Steel. Murdock said Pavicich bounced back from a few third-period goals Friday the goalie would probably like back.
Friday, Chippewa defeated Kenai River 6-2. The Steel jumped out 2-0 after the first two periods.
Poellinger cut it to 2-1 just 20 seconds into the third period, but Chippewa bumped the advantage to 4-1 with 17:59 left in the game.
Anchorage’s Max Helgeson scored midway through the third period, but the Steel closed out the game with two more goals.
Berkeliev made 22 saves for the Steel, while Pavicich stopped 27 for the Bears.
Steel 6, Brown Bears 2
Chippewa 1 1 4 —6
Kenai River 0 0 2 —2
First period — 1. Chippewa, Baker (Hansson, Oyler), pp, 11:37. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Chippewa, Benz (Kerchoff, Janda), 11:54. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Poellinger (Tomlinson, Helgeson), 0:20; 4. Chippewa, Brown (Oyler), 1:01; 5. Chippewa, Janda (Brown, Hansson), pp, 2:01; 6. Kenai River, Helgeson (Szubert, Dodge), pp, 9:59; 7. Chippewa, Hansson (Kerchoff, Benz), 14:21; 8. Chippewa, Kerchoff (Hansson, Fenton), en, 19:06. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Chippewa 10-11-12—33; Kenai River 7-7-10—24.
Goalies — Chippewa, Berkeliev (24 shots, 22 saves); Kenai River, Pavicich (32 shots, 27 saves).
Brown Bears 3, Steel 2
Chippewa 0 1 1 —2
Kenai River 1 0 2 —3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Poellinger (Tomlinson, Helgeson), 15:44. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Chippewa, Cox (Benz, Tanos), pp, 13:01. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Wahlin (Morgan, McNamara), 13:27; 4. Kenai River, Tomlinson (Poellinger, Helgeson), 15:22; 5. Chippewa, Brown (Baker), 17:33. Penalties — Chippewa 4 for 11:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Shots on goal — Chippewa 8-7-9—24; Kenai River 9-7-9—25.
Goalies — Chippewa, Berkeliev (25 shots, 22 saves); Kenai River, Pavicich (24 shots, 22 saves).