The Kenai River Brown Bears dropped their first two games coming off the holiday break, losing to the host Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights 5-2 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday in North American Hockey League play.
The Knights move to 20-7-3-0 and into first place in the East Division, while the Bears are 10-20-1-1 and in fifth place in the Midwest Division. Kenai River plays at the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Friday and Saturday before returning to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for 7:30 p.m. games Jan. 12 and 13 against the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill.
Friday, the Bears stayed on their holiday break for 30 minutes too long.
“It was really just a tale of two games,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “The first 30 minutes, we were really sluggish. It looked like we were still on Christmas break.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton led 2-0 after the first period on a pair of goals by Matthew Kidney, then 4-0 after two periods on goals by Justin Engelkes and Reed Robinson.
Kenai River came out strong in the third period. Just 32 seconds in, Gil Garcia, on assists from Sacha Guillemain and Cameron McDonald, scored on the power play. Then Connor Fedorek, assisted by Markuss Komuls and Gabriel Wahl, scored with 13:01 left for a 4-2 game.
Petrich said the big play came with 6:04 left, when Curtis Carlson scored for the Knights.
“The real dagger was the fifth goal, which I didn’t like,” Petrich said. “We had the momentum and it was a cheesy little short-side goal. It didn’t deflate us but it made the climb back a lot tougher.”
Petrich said goalie Artur Pavliukov played a good game. Pavliukov got two shots of relief from Gavin Enright because Pavliukov split open his lip after taking a shot to his mask.
The Kenai River coach said Pavliukov and Enright have not lost the Bears games this year, but the next step is for the duo to consistently win games.
“Their goalie won the game for them — he had 10 or 12 big-time saves,” said Petrich of David Tomeo, who saved 33 to Pavliukov’s 42.
Saturday, the Bears again fell into a big hole from which they could not escape, but this hole was dug in a different way.
Unlike Friday, Petrich said the Bears had as good of a start to the game as they’ve had all year, with one problem. Kenai River didn’t score.
With the aid of a power play, Petrich said Kenai River outshot WBS 5-0 to start the game and had three great scoring chances, but did not convert.
The Knights made the Bears pay with goals by Adrian Danchenko and Gabe Temple in the seventh minute of the game on Bears netminder Enright.
“I didn’t like the first two goals we gave up,” Petrich said. “Once again, the goaltending wasn’t bad, but we need the goaltenders to pick us up and get us through the first period.”
Petrich said the major determining factor in whether Kenai River earns this points has been whether they are behind after the first, or tied or in the lead.
After the first period, Petrich said untimely penalties made it tough to come back. Danchenko scored the lone goal of the second period for a 3-0 lead.
Komuls, on assists from Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and new acquisition Filip Karlsson, had a power-play goal to start the third, but Curtis Carlson and Jack Olmstead finished up the scoring for WBS.
Enright made 36 saves for the Bears, while Christian Stoever had 32 for the Knights.
Despite the two losses, Petrich is feeling better about his team, saying the Bears just needed to get a few breaks.
“Before Christmas break, the team was getting out-competed and outworked when we were losing 5-1 and 6-1,” Petrich said. “We were right in it this weekend. They executed and we didn’t.”
Bears notes: The Bears continue to shuffle their roster due to injuries. Nic Griebenow is out with a shoulder injury, while Kenai Central product Ross Hanson is out with a wrist injury.
Karlsson, a left-handed forward with a 1998 birthdate, has joined the team from Sweden and played his first game Friday.
“He’s a big forward that can play either wing or center,” Petrich said. “He protects pucks well and he is strong with the puck.”
With Griebenow and Hanson expected to be healthy this month, tough decisions must be made.
“It’s going to get really competitive in the next 6, 7 or 10 days,” Petrich said. …
The Bears also have announced two tenders for next season — Jack Conroy of the Chicago Fury U18 and Brad Postula of the Meijer Hockey U18 club.
Conroy is a forward with a 2000 birth year, while Postula is a defenseman with a 1999 birth year.
Knights 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 0 2 — 2
WBS 2 2 1 — 5
First period — 1. WBS, Kidney (Olmstead, Cimilluca), 3:37; 2. WBS, Kidney (Carlson), 13:09. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; WBS 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. WBS, Engelkes (Temple), 3:10; 4. WBS, Robinson (Danchenko, Kryska), pp, 16:08. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; WBS 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Garcia (Guillemain, C. McDonald), pp, 0:32; 6. Kenai River, Fedorek (Komuls, Wahl), 6:59; 7. WBS, Carlson (Robinson, Hatten), 13:56. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; WBS 6 for 20:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-6-23—35; WBS 19-13-17—49.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavliukov (47 shots, 42 saves), Enright (2 shots, 2 saves); WBS, Tomeo (35 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7; WBS 1 for 5.
Knights 5, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 0 1 — 1
WBS 2 1 2 — 5
First period — 1. WBS, Danchenko (Firriolo, Temple), 7:25; 2. WBS, Temple (Danchenko, Koblizek), 7:56. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; WBS 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. WBS, Danchenko (Robinson, Farrell), 17:34. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 23:00; WBS 5 for 21:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Komuls (Krajnik, Karlsson), pp, 5:46; 5. WBS, Carlson (Olmstead), pp, 11:29; 6. WBS, Olmstead (Kidney), 17:44. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 27:00; WBS 4 for 16:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-9-14—33; WBS 16-13-12—41.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (41 shots, 36 saves); WBS, Stoever (33 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7:00; WBS 1 for 7:00.