The Kenai River Brown Bears split a pair of North American Hockey League games in Wisconsin, losing 4-1 to the Janesville Jets on Friday before driving three hours to La Crosse and defeating the Coulee Region Chill 4-3.
With the victory, Kenai River moves to 10-17-1-0 and into fifth place in the Midwest Division with 21 points. Coulee Region is in last in the division at 7-13-1, good for 20 points. Janesville, which lost to the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Saturday, is 17-8-2-0 and in second place in the Midwest. Fairbanks swept the Minnesota Magicians and leads the division at 17-5-3-2.
The Bears stay on the road to face the Magicians on Friday and Saturday before taking a few weeks off for the holidays.
“A win puts us a point ahead of them in the standings and back on an upward swing with two wins in the last three games,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “We’ve gotten to the 10-win mark on the season. Now we’ve got two games left before the Christmas break and we hope to get on a bit of a roll.”
Saturday, the Bears put their young talent on display. Sacha Guillemain had a goal, Gabriel Wahl had a goal and an assist, Connor Scachill had a goal and an assist and Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik had a goal and an assist. All those players are 1999 birthdates, meaning they can play in the league for two more seasons after this season. Then there’s Eagle River’s Cameron McDonald, a 2001 who had two more assists for the squad.
On defense, the Bears featured McDonald, 1999 players Conner Fedorek, affiliate Alex Stuckert, Scahill and Preston Weeks, and 1998 Connor Matsinger.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys and they’re going to have good days and bad days,” Petrich said. “I really like our locker room and our core. I think we’re going to be a fun team to watch in the second half.”
Saturday, Collin Price put the Chill up 1-0 just 26 seconds into the game, but Kenai River drew even midway through the period on a power-play goal by Wahl, assisted by McDonald and Krajnik.
Petrich said that goal was probably the biggest point in the game, because the Bears had started slow and didn’t want to go out of the first period down 1-0.
Krajnik, assisted by Wahl and Luke Radetic, had the lone goal of the second period for a 2-1 advantage.
With 6 minutes, 3 seconds, left in the third period, Tyler Ebner tied it at 2 for Coulee. But just 11 seconds later, Sacha Guillemain, on assists from McDonald and Connor Scahill, put the Bears ahead again.
With 1:31 left, Scahill appeared to ice the game on an empty-netter assisted by Gil Garcia and 1999 birthdate Luke Posner, but Coulee made it interesting by cutting it to 4-3 with 1:11 left on a goal by Price.
Goalie Artur Pavliukov, who made 46 saves, shut the door the rest of the way for Kenai River. Emil Zetterquist had 37 saves for the Chill.
“He played really well,” Petrich said of Pavliukov. “He started here last year and it was his first time playing them. I think he had a bone to pick with them.”
Friday, the Bears took advantage of an early power play to score first on Guillemain’s goal, which came just 4:40 into game action.
However, the offense languished the rest of the way, as Janesville went ahead 2-1 in the second period on goals from Jordan Steinmetz and Jakov Novak, all while outshooting the Bears 14-8. Novak is tied for the team lead in points, and led the charge to put the Jets ahead with 9:12 left in the period.
Petrich said he thought his squad was playing well, but two bad turnovers led to the goals.
Kip Hoffman put the game away with a pair of scores in the third period, the second an empty-netter in the final second of time. The first was a shot from the outside that Petrich said goalie Gavin Enright would like to have back. At the same time, Petrich said that goal took too much out of his team and that his squad can’t let things like that get it down.
Daniel Lebedeff commanded the Janesville net with 28 saves on 29 shots, while Enright stopped 32 shots for Kenai River.
The Bears won the special-teams battle both nights, going a cumulative 2 for 8 on the power play and while holding opponents to 0 for 7 on the power play.
“It hasn’t been the power play’s fault, our kill has struggled,” Petrich said. “We’ve worked at it a lot and we’re getting guys to buy in and do stuff the right way.”
Last week, the Bears acquired Matsinger from the Jr. Blues in exchange for Sam Sterne. Both are 1998 left-handed defensemen.
“Both players needed a change of scenery and a fresh start,” Petrich said. “Sam Sterne has been really good and the fans really enjoyed him and we wish Sam the best.”
Stuckert came to the Bears from the Iowa Wild AAA program, where Petrich coached last season. Stuckert was brought in because the Bears needed an extra body after Kenai Central product Ross Hanson broke his wrist last weekend, and will be out about six weeks, and Nick Griebenow is also battling injury. Emils Ezitis and Markuss Komuls also are gone playing for Latvia at the Division I Group A U20 World Championships in France.
Jets 4, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Janesville 0 2 2 —4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Guillemain (Krajnik, Fedorek), PP, 4:40. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 4 for 8:00.
Second period — 2. Janesville, Steinmetz (Eckerle, Hanewall), 9:18; 3. Janesville, Novak (Palmqvist, Hoffman), 10:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Janesville, Hoffman (Novak, Hill), 7:29; 5. Janesville, Hoffman (Bjorkman), EN, 19:59. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Janesville 3 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-8-11—29; Janesville 12-14-10—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (35 shots, 32 saves); Janesville, Lebedeff (29 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 5; Janesville 0 for 5.
Brown Bears 4, Chill 3
Kenai River 1 1 2 — 4
Coulee Region 1 0 2 — 3
First period — 1. Coulee Region, Price (Hines), 0:26; 2. Kenai River, Wahl (C. McDonald, Krajnik), pp, 9:28. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Coulee 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Krajnik (Wahl, Radetic), 9:30. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Coulee 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Coulee Region, Ebner (Lund), 13:57; 5. Kenai River, Guillemain (C. McDonald, Scahill), 14:08; 6. Kenai River, Scahill (Garcia, Posner), en, 18:29; 7. Coulee Region, Price (Martin, Zilisch), 18:49. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-17-13—41; Coulee Region 21-11-17–49.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavliukov (49 shots, 46 saves); Coulee Region, Zetterquist (40 shots, 37 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Coulee Region 0 for 2.