The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a 24-game pointless streak by scoring three times on the power play Saturday in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Titans in Middleton, New Jersey.
“It’s a huge step forward for the club,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Our guys have put in the time and work and they really deserved it, actually they deserved better. I’ll take words from their coach and say we deserved to win the hockey game tonight.
“We finally put 60 minutes plus together playing to our identity, and playing the roles each guy has to play in order to be successful.”
The last Brown Bears win in the North American Hockey League came on the road Sept. 18 in a 4-3 overtime win in Janesville, Wisconsin.
While the squad’s pointless streak stops at 24, the team has gone a franchise-high 25 games without a victory.
The Bears move to 1-26-1 on the season, while New Jersey still leads the East Division with a 19-8-2 mark.
In order to get the point, Kenai River twice had to come back from deficits.
“Those are things that have typically ballooned on us,” Beauparlant said. “They showed they are learning their lessons and starting to apply them more consistently. We’ve been constantly talking about the small positives, and today a small positive led to a big positive.”
In the first period, Joseph Shuler scored short-handed and Garrett Hallford added a tally to give the Titans a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.
“The two goals they scored early were mistakes we made that ended up in the back of our net,” Beauparlant said.
But in the second period, the Bears got their power play rolling.
“On the power play, we created motion and were able to get pucks to the net,” Beauparlant said. “We had been getting too many shots blocked.”
Charles Spetz, assisted by Dylan McArthur and Jack Gessert, scored with 16:58 left in the second, then Gessert, assisted by Jake Hartje, tied the game with 5:17 remaining in the second.
Anthony Cusanelli gave the Titans the lead with 37 seconds left in the second period, but Joey Sardina, assisted by Gessert, scored with 14:54 left in the third to tie it.
Beauparlant said Gessert played well in getting the three points.
“Last night he was average, but tonight he showed why he is one of the top players in the league when he is on,” Beauparlant said.
With 1:49 left in the five-minute, three-on-three overtime, Darren Brady gave the Titans the win.
“With the situation we’ve been in, our philosophy was we’re going for it,” Beauparlant said of overtime. “We had two or three good chances halfway through the overtime.”
Nick Nast had 36 saves for the Bears, while Harrison Feeney stopped 23 for New Jersey. Beauparlant said Nast saved a two-on-zero breakaway with the Bears down 2-0 in the first that turned the game.
Beauparlant said McArthur had his best weekend, and Thomas Keane also was solid on defense. The coach said Sam Carlson and Adam Kresl also gave the team a lot of energy.
Friday, the Titans broke open a close game in the second period to win 7-1.
After Friday’s game, Kenai River assistant coach Andrew Whiteside acknowledged the team’s frustration of 24 games without a single point, but added that the Bears have stuck together and have continued to make strides of progress.
“I think we’re close,” Whiteside said. “We’ve continued to harp on the positives, and the first period (Friday) was great.
“It’s a tough time and the guys could be pointing fingers, but everyone is in this together.”
Friday’s game was decided within a matter of seconds in the middle period.
After an opening goal by Cameron Cook — taken in traffic on a slick assist from Hartje — was equaled on the Titans power play by Keegan Miller just minutes later midway through the first period, the Titans scored three second-period goals in a span of 32 seconds.
Adam Hascic tallied the go-ahead score with 3 minutes, 31 seconds, left in the period, and Jesse Farabee notched an insurance goal just seven seconds later. Tony DeVito iced the game with 2:59 remaining with a strike that put the Titans up 4-1. Farabee and DeVito each scored again in the third period to put the game away.
After being outshot 15-11 in the first period and skating off the ice in a tie, the Bears were pelted in the second frame, being outshot 23-5 and outscored 3-0.
Overall, New Jersey scored twice on five power-play advantages. Whiteside said Kenai’s plan of attack worked well in the first period, but quickly broke down in the second.
“Once the second (period) hit we got away from our game plan and had a couple lapses that ultimately killed us,” Whiteside said. “It’s a downfall of ours.”
Kenai River defender Hartje returned to action without missing a game, just five days after suffering what looked to be a serious injury late in Sunday’s loss to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Hartje was checked into the boards from behind and lay motionless on the ice before being carted off and brought to Central Peninsula Hospital as a precaution.
Whiteside said the entire Kenai River organization was happy to have him back.
“That’s definitely a huge relief for us, with him coming off great games against Fairbanks, we took a deep breath of relief,” Whiteside said. “He contributes a little bit of a veteran presence on the blue line, and we joke that he’s a marathon runner because he takes back-to-back shifts all the time.”
Brown Bears defenseman Jeff Fasegha, who was also hurt Sunday, did not play Friday and Saturday and Whiteside classified him as day to day with an upper body injury.
The Bears stay on the road to face the Aston (Philadelphia) Rebels at 3 p.m. AST Friday and Saturday.
Bears notes: Former Brown Bears forward and Anchorage native Alex Jackstadt scored the first goal of his college career in Anchorage on Friday in the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ 2-1 victory over the University of Alaska Anchorage.
With his team trailing 1-0 in the second period, the Seawolves freshman earned a penalty shot and beat UAF’s Jesse Jenks. Brown Bears fans will be surprised to learn Jackstadt did not go backhand five-hole. Instead, he faked twice and ripped a wrister over Jenks’ pad for just the second penalty shot goal in UAA history.
Titans 7, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
New Jersey 1 3 3 —7
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Cook (McArthur, Hartje), 9:32; 2. New Jersey, Miller (Durham, Gazzillo), pp, 12:26. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; New Jersey 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 3. New Jersey, Hascic (Ostling, Durham), 16:29; 4. New Jersey, Farabee (Hamilton), 16:36; 5. New Jersey, DeVito (Egan, Becker), 17:01. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
3rd period — 6. New Jersey, DeVito (Hascic, Cusanelli), pp, 3:52; 7. New Jersey, Hallford (Brady, Gazzillo), 9:58; 8. New Jersey, Farabee (Cusanelli, Hamilton), 19:36. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 32:00; New Jersey 7 for 36:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-5-16—32; New Jersey 15-23-10—48.
Goalies — Kenai River, Baker (48 shots, 41 saves); New Jersey, Wright (32 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; New Jersey 2 for 5.
Titans 4, Brown Bears 3, OT
Kenai River 0 2 1 0 —3
New Jersey 2 1 0 4 —4
First period — 1. New Jersey, Schuler (un.), sh, 8:24; 2. New Jersey, Hallford (Birzitis), 8:55. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; New Jersey 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Spetz (McArthur, Gessert) pp, 3:02; 4. Kenai River, Gessert (Hartje), pp, 14:43; 5. New Jersey, Cusanelli (Farabee), 19:23. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 12:00; New Jersey 5 for 10:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Sardina (Gessert), pp, 5:06. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; New Jersey 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — 7. New Jersey, Brady (Miller, Cusanelli), 3:11. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-9-9-2—26; New Jersey 10-16-12-2—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Nast (40 shots, 36 saves); New Jersey, Feeney (26 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 3 for 7; New Jersey 0 for 5.