Kenai River’s Andy Walker gets behind the defense to score the first goal of the game Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River’s Andy Walker gets behind the defense to score the first goal of the game Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears sweep weekend from Steel

The Kenai River Brown Bears swept the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday and Saturday in the home-opening weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Kenai River moves to 7-3-0-0 and stays in first place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division, while Chippewa falls to 3-7-0-0. The Bears host the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex.

“People that were here are talking that this isn’t the Brown Bears hockey we’ve seen the last couple of years,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “This is a different group and a special group. They’ve still got a lot of improvements to make. But they don’t quit, they’ve got a lot of heart, and it’s infectious to be around.”

The Bears won 4-0 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday.

Friday, Bears goalie Gavin Enright did the first period. His teammates took care of the rest after Kenai River was outshot 15-4 in the first period.

Petrich knew his team would struggle with opening-night nerves. He told Enright to be ready.

“I knew the guys would have the jitters,” Enright said after stopping all 28 pucks he saw. “I just stayed calm and controlled the game.

“After the first period, the guys took over.”

The first period continues a disturbing trend for the Steel, losers of four straight.

“I thought we outplayed them in the first period but didn’t come away with anything,” Chippewa head coach Al Rooney said. “That’s been the story of our season.”

Just 1:18 into the second period, the Steel were whistled for a penalty. Although the Bears didn’t score, Petrich said the power play changed the game.

“On that first power play, we got some possession and got our legs going,” Petrich said. “We skated. We didn’t skate in the first period, but we skated in the second and third.”

With 12:46 left in the second period, Andy Walker split the defense and scored on assists from Alex Klekotka and JJ Boucher — the first of four assists for Boucher on the night.

There were 10 penalties in the second period, and the Bears gained momentum with each special-teams situation. After Friday’s game, the Bears are tops in the league on the power play and 19th on the penalty kill, while Chippewa is 22nd on the power play and 21st on the penalty kill.

“Our special teams have struggled on both sides of the puck,” Rooney said. “Our power play is pretty much nonexistent. It’s a big reason why we’ve struggled since opening weekend.”

With 3:40 left in the second period, Boucher and Weeks jarred the puck loose and Spethmann raced down the ice for a short-handed goal.

“Not many in this league are going to skate with him,” Petrich said.

With the lead and confidence, the Bears were able to assert their authority over the Steel, the youngest team in the league, in the third period.

“We haven’t learned to fight through adversity,” Rooney said.

The Bears did plenty of that last year in posting the second-worst record in the league. This year, it’s different.

“We’re strong and physical and old,” Petrich said, adding the Bears have yet to lose a game after leading after the first or second period. “It’s going to be tough for young teams to climb back in against us.”

Just 1:49 into the third, Logan Ritchie scored on a nice snipe from the middle of the ice on assists from Boucher and Conroy.

With 4:14 left, Spethmann punctuated the affair by ripping home a one-timer on the power play off passes from Markuss Komuls and Boucher.

“That’s a goal in any league,” Petrich said.

The defense then fought to keep Enright’s shutout when Chippewa went on the power play with 1:25 left. For Enright, it was his first shutout in 2 1-2 years, dating back to high school.

“They knew I wanted the shutout,” Enright said. “I fought for them and they fought for me. That’s what we have this year.”

The attendance was 731, which Petrich said was fine for such a beautiful fall evening.

”The crowd was great,” he said. “I think that’s the loudest they’ve been since I’ve been here.”

Saturday, the Bears twice came back from deficits for the win. In the first period, Kenai River was down 1-0 before Connor Scahill scored a power-play goal, assisted by Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and Klekotka. Scahill fired in a one-timer from the top of the circle.

Chippewa then had the lone goal in the second period for a 2-1 lead.

With 10:04 to play, Justin Daly got the Bears even on assists from Soldotna’s Preston Weeks and Filip Karlsson. Petrich said it was another dirty goal caused by going to a tough area.

Krajnik got the game-winner with 9:48 to play, assisted by Karlsson and Scahill. Again, Krajnik got to the net and scored after getting his own rebound.

“It was a very gutty effort by 20 guys,” said Petrich, who also commended the crowd. “We had a lot of scoring chances in the first and second period, but didn’t start connecting on them until the third period.”

Enright had 20 stops for the win, while Jackson Bernard saves 23 in the loss.

“He played well enough to get us the win,” Petrich said. “He had some shaky points and he wasn’t as sharp as last night, but when it’s all said and done, it’s the W that matters.”

Friday

Brown Bears 4, Steel 0

Chippewa 0 0 0 — 0

Kenai River 0 2 2 — 4

First period — none. Penalties — none.

Second period — 1. Kenai River, A. Walker (Klekotka, Boucher), 7:14; 2. Kenai River, Spethmann (Boucher, Weeks), sh, 16:20. Penalties — Chippewa 6 for 12:00; Kenai River 4 for 8:00.

Third period — 3. Kenai River, Ritchie (Boucher, Conroy), 1:49; 4. Kenai River, Spethmann (Komuls, Boucher), pp, 15:46. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Shots on goal — Chippewa 15-6-7—28; Kenai River 4-19-8—31.

Goalies — Chippewa, Zdunski (31 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Enright (28 shots, 28 saves).

Power plays — Chippewa 0 for 3; Kenai River 1 for 5.

Saturday

Brown Bears 3, Steel 2

Chippewa 1 1 0 — 2

Kenai River 1 0 2 — 3

First period — 1. Chippewa, Dusek (Szmul, Gotovets), 11:12; 2. Kenai River, Scahill (Krajnik, Klekotka), pp, 13:45. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Second period — 3. Chippewa, Reichenbacher (Philibert, Weiss), 12:26. Penalties — Chippewa 3 for 32:00; Kenai River 2 for 30:00.

Third period — 4. Kenai River, Daly (Weeks, Karlsson), 9:56; 5. Kenai River, Krajnik (Karlsson, Scahill), 12:12. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Shots on goal — Chippewa 11-5-6—22; Kenai River 7-9-10—26.

Goalies — Chippewa, Bernard (26 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Enright (22 shots, 20 saves).

Power plays — Chippewa 0 for 1; Kenai River 1 for 3.

Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright makes one of 28 saves on the way to shutting out the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright makes one of 28 saves on the way to shutting out the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and teammates celebrate the second-period goal of Michael Spethmann against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and teammates celebrate the second-period goal of Michael Spethmann against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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