The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues 8-4 on Friday night and 5-2 on Saturday night in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to pull off a three-game sweep of the Blues.
The Bears stretch their winning streak to seven games and move their record to 14-5-1-2, which puts them in first place in the Midwest Division. Fairbanks is just two points behind, and the two start a three-game series at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex starting Thursday at 7 p.m. Springfield is in fifth in the division at 7-12-2-1.
The Friday victory provided many causes for celebration. Eight goals is a lot of goals.
Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock wasn’t having it.
“It’s going to sound stupid, but consistency,” said Murdock, when asked why he wasn’t overjoyed with the victory. “That’s what I’m still thinking about and talking about.
“Tonight we played really good for about 30 minutes, but the other 30 minutes, we took it off.”
The players are buying what Murdock is selling. Peter Morgan had two goals and two assists, but also was pumping the brakes.
“Coach always tells us about playing the full 60 minutes,” Morgan said. “We won 8-4, but we also gave up the four, and we wouldn’t have done that if we played the full 60 minutes.”
So how does a team win 8-4 without playing the full 60 minutes? Murdock said that’s was so frustrating. He said the Bears were extremely good in the 30 minutes they did play.
“I think they took advantage of the chances they had,” Murdock said of his squad. “I think Springfield played pretty well. They took it to us for a big part of the game.”
Kenai River went up 2-0 in the first period on goals by Morgan and Jack Quinn, but Aaron Swanson scored with just a second left in the first for a 2-1 lead. When Hunter Longhi tied the game with 5:21 left in the second period, the Jr. Blues, now in fifth place at 7-11-2-1, took the momentum.
“Our second period was below average,” Morgan said.
But just one moment of brilliance by the Morgan-Cody Moline-Porter Schachle erased that.
“It’s been amazing,” Morgan said of playing on the line. “Porter is a really good, big power forward, and Cody is super fast. Porter moves too.
“Our line has a ton of speed and that’s why we have success.”
With 54 seconds left in the second, Wasilla’s Schachle created chaos by driving the net and Morgan tucked home the rebound.
Murdock left the line on the ice.
“You never want to come off the ice,” Morgan said. “I love that.”
With 34 seconds until intermission, Morgan found Moline on a breakaway. Moline converted and suddenly things were looking a lot better for the Bears.
Springfield didn’t quit. Hugh Quinn cut it to 4-3 with a short-handed goal with 15:52 left in the game, but Schachle scored less than a minute later. Hunter Mccurdy then snipped the lead to 5-4 with 10:59 left.
A few plays by Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik finally decided things. With 7:33 left and on the power play, Anchorage’s Max Helgeson barrelled through the slot with the puck caught in his skates before Krajnik somehow picked it up and flung it in the net.
Kenai River went right back on the power play, and Krajnik was ready to return the favor. He slalomed through the heart of Springfield’s defense, somewhat more artfully than Helgeson had, tapping the pass to Helgeson for an easy goal.
“Krajnik at the end, and the end of the second period,” Morgan said. “Those were the two game-changing moments.”
Laudon Poellinger finished the scoring with an empty-net, short-handed goal with 2:19 to play.
Murdock said Springfield goalie Alex Proctor and Kenai River goalie Landon Pavlisin played pretty well considering 12 goals were scored.
Saturday, the Bears continued to score at a rapid clip, getting more than four goals in the game for the eighth-straight game.
Schachle and Soldotna’s Preston Weeks scored in the first period for a 2-1 lead, then Quinn and Michael Spinner scored in the second for a 4-1 lead.
Springfield got it back to 4-2, but Theo Thrun scored with 2:24 left in the second.
Proctor made 36 saves for the Jr. Blues, while Pavlisin stopped 33 for the Bears.
Brown Bears 8, Blues 4
Springfield 1 1 2 — 4
Kenai River 2 2 4 — 8
First period — 1. Kenai River, Morgan (Moline, Weeks), 10:51; 2. Kenai River, Quinn (Lajoie, Reid), 18:06; 3. Springfield, Swanson (Villegas, Larionovs), 19:59. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Springfield, Longhi (Panisa, Proctor), 14:39; 5. Kenai River, Morgan (Moline, Schachle), 19:06; 6. Kenai River, Moline (Morgan, Schachle), 19:26. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Springfield, Quinn (Jones), sh, 4:08; 8. Kenai River, Schachle (Reid, Morgan), 4:45; 9. Springfield, Mccurdy (Larionovs, Jensen), 9:01; 10. Kenai River, Krajnik (Helgeson, Thrun), pp, 12:27; 11. Helgeson (Krajnik, McCollum), 13:55; 12. Kenai River, Poellinger (Ritchie), en, sh, 17:41. Penalties — Springfield 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 5-9-15—29; Kenai River 13-13-27—53.
Goalies — Springfield, Proctor (52 shots, 45 saves); Kenai River, Pavlisin (29 shots, 25 saves).