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Brown Bears return from break with loss to the Jets

The Kenai River Brown Bears returned from the holiday break with a 9-3 loss to the host Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Thursday in North American Hockey League play.

After sweeping the Anchorage Wolverines in a home-and-home series Dec. 1 and 2, the Bears left Alaska and have lost five straight.

Combined with Kenai River having last weekend off, the stretch has been costly in the Midwest Division standings.

The Bears are now 12-19-2-0, good for seventh place and 26 points. The Jets lead the division at 20-10-2-1, good for 43 points. The final playoff spot, in fourth place, belongs to the Wolverines and 16-8-2-2, good for 36 points.

Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said the focus is improving each day and not on the standings.

“We just take it day by day,” Shaw said. “We talk about it at the beginning of the year and that’s where we’re at.

“It’s a new season, that’s how we look at it.”

The Jets took a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Conner Brown and Jake Merens.

“It was kind of a sluggish start,” Shaw said. “I would say that’s kind of what we expected, but it’s hard to spot a team like that two goals.

“They’re good. They’re rolling through everybody right now.”

In the second period, Marko Giourof, assisted by Dylan Contreras and Luke Hause, cut it to 2-1 with a power-play strike.

Nick Sajevic put the Jets back up 3-1, but with 9:20 left in the second period, Kotaro Tsutsumi, assisted by Jacob Margarit and Nick Stevens, cut it to 3-2.

“The shots were 17-14 in the second period,” Shaw said. “We were getting back into the flow of things, but gave up a couple of untimely power-play goals.”

The Jets scored three times in the last 6:56 of the second period to take command of the game. Mason Kesselring scored twice on the power play, while Sajevic scored even strength.

In the third, Noah Gibbs, Ethan Begg and Haden Kruse scored for the Jets, while Owen Hanson, assisted by Jackson Ebbott, scored for Kenai River.

Matthew Alberti made 25 saves for the Jets, while Conor Sullivan stopped 36 for Kenai River.

Shaw was not happy with the way his team played in the first two games out of Alaska, getting swept by the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues.

The Bears lost two to the Jets before the break before losing again Thursday.

The coach is happier with the way his team has played against Janesville, but said missed opportunities have hurt.

“We’ve got to create our own luck,” Shaw said. “We’re doing everything in our power to get it going in the right direction.

“We can’t hang our heads. We’ve got to get back to work.”

The Bears play at the Wisconsin Windigo at 4 p.m. AKST on Friday and Saturday.

Kenai River then has another bye week before hosting the Windigo at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 20 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The Windigo are in third in the Midwest at 17-10-3-1.

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