The Kenai River Brown Bears won Friday and Saturday in Blaine, Minnesota, to finish 2-2 in the North American Hockey League Showcase and improve to 4-2 overall.
Friday, the Bears halted a two-game losing streak by notching a 4-1 victory over the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs, the defending Robertson Cup champions. Saturday, Kenai River came from behind twice to down the Brookings (South Dakota) Blizzard 4-3 in a shootout.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said after Saturday’s game. “We got off to a little bit of a slow start, but they were just resilient. Games that we lost last year we have found ways to win.”
Petrich also is proud to have been a part of the Showcase. The stats are not in for this year, but last year the event had a scout from every NHL team, 58 of 60 Division I teams, 58 of 84 Division III teams and every team in the United States Hockey League.
Friday, the Bears bounced back after a tough Thursday loss.
“It was a great job of rebounding by the guys,” Petrich said. “I thought we played well enough to earn the victory (Thursday), we just couldn’t solve the goalie.”
Kenai River goalie Dennis Westergard made 45 saves to thwart the Mudbugs (3-3 overall), while Shreveport goalie Richie Parent stopped 26. While Petrich did not think the shots were quite that lopsided, he did say Westergard was solid between the pipes.
“He was smooth and he controlled the flow of the game,” Petrich said. “He didn’t really give up many rebounds, and the ones he did our boys picked up and did a good job.”
In addition to great goaltending, the Bears were great on special teams, finishing 2 for 4 with the extra man while holding the Mudbugs to 0 for 3.
“I just liked our eagerness,” Petrich said. “We were quick to pucks. We beat them to races. We just worked.
“I think that’s going to be a theme of what I say this year. We’ve played 15 periods and I’m very pleased with 14 of them.”
Kenai River used its power play to get on the board with 4:23 left in the first period. Eagle River’s Sutton McDonald scored on assists from Michael Spethmann and Markuss Komuls, who was just getting started on a one-goal, two-assist night.
“We got a power-play goal from Sutton and we just rolled from there,” Petrich said.
Komuls struck 6 minutes, 35 seconds, into the second period on assists from JJ Boucher and Thomas Walker.
Then with 5:46 to play in the second, Alex Klekotka made it 2-0 on the power play with helpers from Owen Arfstrom and Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik.
Just under 30 seconds later, Jack Johnson answered with Shreveport’s lone goal of the night, but that would be all Westergard would allow.
Petrich said he asks his team for 100 percent for 55 minutes, because bad stretches of the game will happen. He said the last five minutes of the second period was that bad stretch, but the defense and Westergard managed to keep the lead at two goals.
Johan Bok, assisted by Komuls, iced the game for Kenai River with an empty-netter.
“I didn’t think Mark played very well the last two games,” Petrich said. “He’s at the point where he’s thinking about a scholarship.
“I just asked him, you be you. They’re going to like you. You don’t have to be different than that.”
Arfstrom, the Bears’ second-round pick in the NAHL Draft, recently joined the team from the Muskegon (Michigan) Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League. He is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and in his last year of junior eligibility.
Saturday, the Bears sent the Blizzard to 1-1-1-1 by twice coming back from deficits.
Just 28 seconds into the game, Justin Daly put the Bears up when he scored on assists from Logan Ritchie and Jack Conroy. But that momentum slowed when the Bears took a penalty and Brookings scored on the power play then even strength for a 2-1 lead after the first.
“The fourth game of the Showcase comes down to a will to work and who wants it more,” Petrich said.
The coach said both teams are tired and the ice is not good because each ice sheet gets four games per day. So Petrich was really happy his team was able to come back.
In the second, the Bears evened the score when Andy Walker scored on assists from Krajnik and Spethmann. Brookings went up 4:36 into the third when former Brown Bears player Gabe Wahl had his third assist of the night, but Filip Karlsson, assisted by Klekotka and Arfstrom, tied it on the power play with 9:18 left in the game.
In the shootout, Arfstrom and Wasilla’s Porter Schachle scored and Westergard stopped the first two shooters to quickly end it. Westergard had 23 saves, while Alex Mosquera stopped 45 for Brookings.
“I thought we were the better team but you’re not rewarded all the time,” Petrich said. “I’m proud of this group for getting two points.”
The Bears play Friday and Saturday at the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues before their home opener Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel.
Brown Bears 4, Mudbugs 1
Kenai River 1 2 1 — 3
Shreveport 0 1 0 — 1
First period — 1. Kenai River, McDonald (Spethmann, Komuls), pp, 15:37. Penalties — Shreveport 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Komuls (Boucher, T. Walker), 6:35; 3. Kenai River, Klekotka (Artstrom, Krajnik), pp, 14:14; 4. Shreveport, Johnson (Stoia), 14:43. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Shreveport 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Bok (Komuls), en, 19:37. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Shreveport 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-10-9—30; Shreveport 14-15-17—46.
Goalies — Kenai River, Westergard (46 shots, 45 saves); Shreveport, Parent (29 shots, 26 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 4; Shreveport 0 for 3.
Brown Bears 4, Blizzard 3
Kenai River 1 1 1 0 1 — 4
Brookings 2 0 1 0 0 — 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Daly (Ritchie, Conroy), 0:28; 2. Brookings, Schuett (Wahl), pp, 4:32; 3. Brookings, Rotenberg (Wahl, Meininger), 6:40. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Brookings 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, A. Walker (Krajnik, Spethmann), 8:05. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Brookings, Rotenberg (Wahl, Krogman), 4:36; 6. Kenai River, Karlsson (Klekotka, Arfstrom), pp, 10:42. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Brookings 4 for 16:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River (Arfstrom G, Schachle G); Brookings (Magnavite NG, Rotenberg NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-20-14-2—48; Brookings 9-8-8-1—26.
Goalies — Kenai River, Westergard (26 shots, 23 saves); Brookings, Mosquera (48 shots, 45 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 6, Brookings 1 for 5.