Brown Bears open season with shutout victory

The taste of a 14-41-3-2 season can’t be washed from the mouth in one game, but the Kenai River Brown Bears got off to a pretty good start Wednesday at the North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.

The Brown Bears opened their 16th season by defeating the Danbury (Connecticut) Jr. Hat Tricks 6-0. Last season, the Bears won just one game by a margin of six goals or more — a 6-0 defeat of the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Dec. 16.

After winning his first game as interim head coach last season — a 4-2 victory over the Blues on Nov. 18 — Taylor Shaw also won his first game as head coach. Shaw was elevated to the job right after last season.

“It’s a big win for the group, the guys that came back, the staff and the community,” Shaw said. “It shows a belief in what we’re trying to do and is a step in the right direction. We certainly appreciate that start, for sure.”

At the same time, Shaw said the Bears have little time to celebrate with three more games left in the Showcase. Kenai River plays the Amarillo (Texas) Wranglers today at 2 p.m. AKDT, the Philadelphia Rebels on Friday at 8:30 a.m. AKDT, and the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. AKDT.

Kenai River’s returning leading scorer had 38 points last season, so the Bears will have to find offense from fresh faces in order to find success.

Kenai River got just that in the opener, with four players getting their first NAHL goals.

Kotaro Tsutsumi, who is from Tokyo, got the Bears on the board in the first period on assists from Anchorage skaters Bryce Monrean and Caleb Huffman. This was Tsutsumi’s first NAHL game.

Hayden Walters also was making his Kenai River debut. He scored twice in the second period, once unassisted and once on assists from Nick Stevens and Huffman.

Returner Ryan Finch also scored on the power play in the second on assists from Jack Anderson and Ashton Christman as the Bears went into the final 20 minutes up 4-0 despite outshooting the Hat Tricks 24-23 in the first two periods.

“I think we did a lot of the little things right,” Shaw said. “We were winning races, putting pucks into spots and putting the puck on net every chance we got.”

Kenai River opened the third by scoring on the power play again. Huffman, a defenseman, played in 55 games for the Bears last season with scoring a goal, but he broke through on that power play early in the third, with help from Tsutsumi.

The final goal came from Mason Wharton, assisted by Luke Hause. Wharton is from Toronto and is only 16 years old, though Shaw said he doesn’t look 16 on the ice.

Nils Wallstrom stopped all 29 shots he faced in his first start for the Bears, earning his first NAHL shutout. Adam Johnson had 35 saves for Danbury.


Brown Bears 6, Jr. Hat Tricks 0

Kenai River 1 3 2 —6

Danbury 0 0 0 —0

First period — 1. Kenai River, Tsutsumi (Monrean, Huffman), 18:47. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Danbury 1 for 2:00.

Second peirod — 2. Kenai River, Walters (un.), 8:57; 3. Kenai River, Finch (Anderson, Christman), 11:21; 4. Kenai River, Walters (Stevens, Huffman), 16:55. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Danbury 3 for 6:00.

Third period — 5. Kenai River, Huffman (Tsutsumi), pp, 10:58; 6. Kenai River, Wharton (Hause), 17:31. Penalties — Danbury 3 for 6:00.

Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-13-17—41; Danbury 7-16-6—29.

Goalies — Kenai River, Wallstrom (29 shots, 29 saves); Danbury, Johnson (41 shots, 35 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 6; Danbury 0 for 2.

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