Call it the dog days of winter. The Bears are stuck in hibernation.
The Kenai River Brown Bears lost 5-2 Saturday night to the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks at the Cambria County War Memorial ice rink in front of 1,657 fans.
Combined with Friday’s 5-3 loss, the game extends the Brown Bears’ losing streak to 10 straight games, the current longest in the league and tied for the longest this season. The drought began Nov. 29.
Kenai River (11-21-2) sits last in the North American Hockey League Midwest division with 24 points, two points out of a playoff spot behind the fourth-place Minnesota Magicians. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (21-11-3) and Coulee Region Chill (20-7-5) sit tied atop the division with 45 points each, just one ahead of the third-place Minnesota Wilderness.
Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said that in the four games against the Keystone (Pa.) Miners and the Tomahawks since the holiday break ended, the team has not been able to capitalize on scoring opportunities like their opponents.
“It still comes down to hard work, it comes down to our guys sticking to the systems for 60 minutes,” Beauparlant said. “We have a tendency to allow a goal against us to affect our psyche, and we need to overcome that.”
Brown Bears fans can still take solace in that the current losing streak is not the team’s longest. Kenai River strung together 21 consecutive losses — including playoff games — in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
In the two games against Johnstown, Kenai River had trouble particularly with Casey Linkenheld and Trevor Recktenwald. Linkenheld scored five goals and an assist in the weekend sweep — including a Friday hat trick — while Recktenwald notched four assists for five total points.
“They’re good hockey players,” Beauparlant said. “They’re big time players that showed up and created opportunities.”
Joey Sardina opened scoring Saturday for the Bears just 1 minute, 52 seconds into the game, but Johnstown answered quickly.
The Tomahawks went on a 5-on-3 power play that resulted in a tying goal from Brady Bender, then struck again less than two minutes later to grab a 2-1 lead. Linkenheld converted on a stretch pass that caught the Brown Bears on their heels.
“We came out with good positive energy tonight, and that goal was a huge uplifting moment for our hockey club,” Beauparlant said. “Then we take two stick penalties because of bad angles, and when you take those penalties that’s usually when they score on the power play.”
Linkenheld scored on another Johnstown power play midway through the second period to push the lead to 3-1. Johnstown ended the night going 2-for-4 on the power play.
Josh Bowes and Recktenwald added goals that extended the lead to 5-1, before Matt Rudin tipped one in with 38 seconds left in the period.
Kenai River goalie Alec Derks (4-7) was credited with his fifth straight loss in the net for the Bears. Derks saved 15 of 20 shots Saturday.
The Bears face Fairbanks in a two-game series next Friday and Saturday night at the Big Dipper. Game time is 7:30 p.m. both nights.
Tomahawks 5, Brown Bears 3
Trying desperately just to earn points, the Kenai River Brown Bears found trouble Friday night in the form of Casey Linkenwald and Trevor Recktenwald.
The Brown Bears suffered a 5-3 loss to the Tomahawks Friday night with Linkenwald and Reckentenwald teaming up on three goals. After scoring the first goal of the night, Linkenheld completed a hat trick with a pair of goals early in the second period. Recktenwald assisted on all three of them.
Once again, the Bears were left to dig out of a hole early in the game, as Johnstown scored a trio of goals in the opening period, even though Kenai River outshot the Tomahawks 16-9.
Linkenheld opened the scoring with a shot nine minutes, 20 seconds in, and was soon joined by Luke Lynch and Cam Bleck.
Wasilla product Tanner Schachle scored an equalizer for the Brown Bears midway through the first period, and Ben Campbell sent the puck into the net on a power play opportunity in the second frame.
The crucial swing of momentum came in the first period, when Lynch and Bleck scored just 27 seconds apart to break a 1-1 tie and distance the Tomahawks by two goals.
With the game essentially locked up, Matt Rudin scored a goal for the Bears with 1:20 remaining, getting help from Campbell and Joseph Kaszupski.
Kenai River goalie Evan Hauser (0-1-1) — who was acquired by the Bears on Tuesday — took the loss in net with 13 saves on 18 shots. Hauser was pulled four minutes into the second period for Alec Derks, who finished up with 10 saved shots and a clean sheet.
Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said Hauser was picked up for his experience and ability to stay composed under pressure.
“He’s had to battle through adversity in the lower levels of the sport,” Beauparlant said.
Beauparlant said he and Kenai River’s assistant coaches had the chance to watch Hauser play at the NA3HL Showcase event in early December, and were impressed by his play.
“He’s confident and poised in the net, and he’s given us a chance to win in all three games he’s played,” Beauparlant said.
Hauser started his first game with the Bears Wednesday in a 3-2 shootout loss, saving 24 of 26 shots.
Tomahawks 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
Johnstown 2 3 0 —5
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Sardina (Schachle, Campbell), 1:52; 2. Johnstown, Bender (Menslage, Bleck), PP, 6:34; 3. Johnstown, Linkenheld (Jaeckle, Recktenwald), 8:12. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 4. Johnstown, Linkenheld (Drabin, Spencer), PP, 11:45; 5. Johnstown, Bowes (Montgomery, Bochert), 14:37; 6. Johnstown, Recktenwald (Linkenheld, Drabin), 15:52; 7. Kenai River, Rudin (Kaszupski, Jackstadt), 19:22. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — no scoring. Penalties — Johnstown 3 for 14:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-10-7—27; Johnstown 8-9-3—20.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (20 shots, 15 saves); Johnstown, Gwillim (27 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 5; Johnstown 2 for 4.
Tomahawks 5, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 1 1 1 —3
Johnstown 3 2 0 —5
1st period — 1. Johnstown, Linkenheld (Recktenwald, Drabin), 9:20; 2. Kenai River, Schachle (Butcher), 10:57; 3. Johnstown, Lynch (Romano, Buncis), 15:03; 4. Johnstown, Bleck (Zech, Barnes), 15:30. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 5. Johnstown, Linkenheld (Recktenwald), 2:06; 6. Johnstown, Linkenheld (Spencer, Recktenwald), 4:28; 7. Kenai River, Campbell (Andrews), PP, 9:20. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 19:00; Johnstown 5 for 21:00.
3rd period — 8. Kenai River, Rudin (Campbell, Kaszupski), 18:40. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 16-15-10—41; Johnstown 9-12-7—28.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (28 shots, 23 saves); Johnstown, Gwillim (41 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 5; Johnstown 0 for 3.