After losing a three-goal lead late in the going against the Austin (Minn.) Bruins, the Kenai River Brown Bears escaped with a 4-3 victory Thursday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Nathan Colwell chipped in the game-winner with 1 minute, 59 seconds, left in regulation after getting an assist from behind the net.
The win was also important because it lifted the Bears (22-17-6) into playoff contention, replacing Wenatchee, Wash., (22-18-5) in fourth place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division standings. Wenatchee lost to Fairbanks Thursday, and the two points Kenai River garnered leaves them with 50 points, one ahead of the Wild.
“Every single game, you want to gain on the teams in front of you,” said Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant. “The only way to do that is win and collect points.”
Midway through the second period, the Bears had established a 3-0 lead — one of them a short-handed goal — and looked to be keeping the pressure on Austin, but the Bruins erased that deficit slowly but surely.
“It’s a sign that they’re a good hockey team with veterans, and they’ll keep coming,” Beauparlant said. “We’ve got to play a full 60 minutes, and I thought we did that tonight. I thought we earned the victory.”
Alec Butcher added to his league-leading scoring tally with his 51st goal of the season late in the first period, grabbing a long shot from Tyler Andrews and quickly sending it home to give the Brown Bears a lead.
Jacob Wolter added the short-handed goal with 1:15 left on the penalty kill early in the second period, wrapping around the Bruins net to score. Albin Karlsson put in the third goal of the night with 7:32 left in the second period, getting an assist from newly acquired player Ben Campbell.
“I think we only played 30 minutes tonight, and we got to play 60,” said Austin coach Chris Tok. “We had some good opportunities, and I don’t know if we were just feeling sorry for ourselves or what.”
Late in the period, however, Luke Dietsch found himself with a great opportunity directly in front of the net with no defenders and put away the Bruins’ first tally.
Then 2:29 into the third period, Casey Jerry scored to make a game out of it, closing Austin’s deficit to 3-2, and Lucas Kohls tied it up with 6:35 remaining in the game. Kohls took advantage of a turnover in the right corner and scored.
The Bears had a few close shaves in the final minutes, including an open look that was denied by the post with 2:42 left. The close calls prompted Tok to call timeout with 2:35 left.
Then 36 seconds later, Kenai River secured the game-winner.
“I thought we were doing a lot of little things right,” Beauparlant said. “I thought we were winning battles to the wall, we were making smart decisions with the puck, and we were executing when we had opportunities around the net.”
The two teams will face each other twice more, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop on Friday and Saturday nights.
Brown Bears 4, Bruins 3
Kenai River 1 2 1 —4
Austin 0 1 2 —3
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Butcher (Andrews, Campbell) 18:06. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Austin 2 for 12:00.
2nd period — 2. Kenai River, Wolter (unassisted) sh, 4:45; 3. Kenai River, Karlsson (Colwell, Campbell) 12:28; 4. Austin, Dietsch (Reuter, Nelson) 16:19. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Austin 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 5. Austin, Jerry (unassisted) 2:29; 6. Austin, Kohls (Leclerc, Dickman) 13:25; 7. Kenai River, Colwell (Karlsson, Butcher) 18:01. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Austin 3 for 6:00.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (49 shots, 46 saves); Austin, Lehr (42 shots, 38 saves).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-14-15—42; Austin 15-17-17—49.