By JEFF HELMINIAK
The Kenai River Brown Bears used their league-leading power play to win consecutive games for the first time this season, topping the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets 4-2 on Sunday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League play.
The Bears lost the opener of the series 4-1 on Friday — the 10th straight loss for the Bears and sixth straight win for Janesville.
Kenai River then went 4 of 8 on the power play to win 6-4 on Saturday, and 3 of 5 with the extra man to win Sunday.
The Bears move to 9-25-3-2 and remain in last place in the Midwest Division, while the Jets are in seventh place at 17-19-0-1.
“We take some chances putting five forwards on the ice,” Kenai River interim head coach Taylor Shaw said of the power play. “We’ve given up some short-handed goals, but having five offensive guys on the ice allows them to make plays and be a little bit more creative.
“When you’re scoring at the rate we’re scoring at, it’s not to say giving up short-handed goals is OK, but when you’re coming out with more goals, it works.”
Kenai River is scoring on 30.7% of its power plays to lead the league, while the Wichita Falls (Texas) Warriors are next at 26.9%.
The top power-play unit for the Bears is Cole Dubicki, Kevin Marx Noren, Hunter Newhouse, Bryce Monrean and Nick Stevens or Caden Triggs.
“They have good players, and their top two players, Dubicki and Marx Noren, are elite players,” Janesville head coach Parker Burgess said. “They make plays, and I thought they made plays tonight.”
Stevens, assisted by Newhouse and Dubicki, and Newhouse, assisted by Dubicki and Marx Noren, had power-play goals as the Bears led 2-0 after the first period. Jonah Aegerter got one back for Janesville in the second period, but Marx Noren, assisted by Dubicki and Monrean, had it 3-1 headed to the third.
“I think we’re all threats on that power play and they don’t really know what guy to cover because all of us can score and all of us can make plays,” Newhouse said. “I think it’s really dangerous, and we took advantage of it tonight.”
With 13:12 left in the game, the Bears went on the power play and immediately turned the puck over at the point, leading to a breakaway. Tommy Aitken made the stop, highlighting a 45-save performance. Aitken stopped a string of seven games without a win.
Owen Millward made 22 saves for the Jets.
“They have a lot of skill in that locker room,” Shaw said of the Jets. “We had to be accountable for that and make plays, and Tommy was a big part of that. He kept kicking pucks out, especially in the last 20 minutes.”
Carter Cloutier, in just his second game with the Brown Bears, scored on assists from Monrean and Dubicki with 10:27 left in the game for a 4-1 lead. Robby Newton scored with 7:33 left on the power play for Janesville.
Burgess said his team was good in the third period, but overall the coach said the Jets took a dip in their play Saturday and Sunday. They learned that won’t work against the Bears.
“They play hard,” Burgess said. “Taylor’s doing a great job with them. They’re building for the future and they don’t go away.”
By finishing with four assists, Dubicki now leads the league in points with 51. Cade Neilson of the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings is next with 47.
After a nine-game point streak, Dubicki had three points in six games, but now he’s had 11 in his last four.
He was named Midwest Division Star of the Week on Monday.
“He’s so patient with the puck,” Shaw said of Dubicki. “He’s so deceptive with what he does — the ability to handle it and make plays.”
Shaw said he’s proud of the team for putting together the effort it took to finally win back to back.
“We have a great group of guys,” Newhouse said. “We lost 10 games in a row and no one got down. Everyone still works hard in practice and gives their all every day, so it’s fun to get wins.”
The Bears play at Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Ice Dogs lost 8-1 and 4-3 in overtime in Anchorage this weekend.
Brown Bears 4, Jets 2
Janesville 0 1 1 —2
Kenai River 2 1 1 —4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Stevens (Newhouse, Dubicki), pp, 12:10; 2. Kenai River, Newhouse (Dubicki, Marx Noren), pp, 18:08. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Janesville, Aegerter (Mell, Doyle), 4:48; 4. Kenai River, Marx Noren (Dubicki, Monrean), pp, 8:35. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 3 for 24:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Cloutier (Monrean, Dubicki), 9:33; 6. Janesville, Newton (Casperson, Aegerter), pp, 12:27. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Janesville 12-18-17—47; Kenai River 13-6-7—26.
Goalies — Janesville, Millward (26 shots, 22 saves); Kenai River, Aitken (47 shots, 45 saves).