The Kenai River Brown Bears split a weekend series at the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets in North American Hockey League action.
Friday, the Bears dropped a 6-3 decision before coming back for a 9-5 Saturday victory.
The Jets remain atop the Midwest Division with a 5-4-2 record good for 12 points. The Brown Bears (4-3-0-0) are tied for second with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Last weekend, the Bears played their first game since Nov. 14, losing 5-2 to the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel. The Bears didn’t get much on-ice practice before that game.
Monday, Kenai River was able to report to Breezy Point, Minnesota, and get in a good week of practice.
“Obviously, it was nice to have a full week of practice,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said. “We were able to get the guys dialed in on what we wanted to do and change up a few things we were doing at the start of the season.”
Murdock said the Bears also are pretty isolated at hotel-type housing in Breezy Point.
“We hope to keep ourselves secluded and avoid any hiccups with COVID,” Murdock said.
The Bears also have released their latest schedule, available on NAHL.com. According to this schedule, the Bears return to Alaska for March 12 and 13 games at Fairbanks. Kenai River is then home at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex from March 19 to May 1, playing 16 games in this stretch.
The regular season ends May 7 and 8 with games at Fairbanks.
“That’s the hope,” Murdock said of the schedule. “It’ll be awesome to spend the last two months of the season up there.”
Murdock said Janesville’s style led to the high-scoring weekend.
“Janesville’s got a really skilled and pretty talented offensive team,” he said.
Friday, Janesville’s offense was the difference.
After Anchorage’s Max Helgeson started the scoring, Janesville scored three straight before Eagle River’s Brandon Lajoie got the Bears to the first-period break in a 3-2 hole.
Janesville scored all three of the second period’s goals to take command. Lucas Wahlin scored in the third period for the Bears.
Kenai River goalie Danny Fraga was pulled after allowing the first five goals on 22 shots. Luke Pavicich came on to save 16 of 17. Riley Sims had 31 saves for the Jets.
Saturday, Helgeson led the way for the Bears with a hat trick, while Peter Morgan added two goals.
“It was back and forth,” Murdock said. “It was one of the crazier games I’ve been a part of in this league.”
Kenai River went up 3-0 after the first period on two goals by Helgeson and a tally by Theo Thrun.
Just 6:36 into the second period, Janesville had tied the game. However, goals from Morgan and Wasilla’s Porter Schachle had the Bears up 5-3 headed to the third period.
Murdock said the second was a good test of his team’s ability to keep its demeanor no matter what was happening on the ice.
In the third, Morgan Winters put the Bears up 6-3, but Janesville cut it to 6-4. Helgeson made it 7-4, but Janesville made it 7-5. Morgan and Daymin Dodge then scored to ice the game for Kenai River.
Murdock said Helgeson’s hat trick comes from him getting back in the swing of things.
“He’s starting to get his confidence back and he’s hitting his stride,” the coach said. “It’s not just him, it’s the whole group. They were off seven months for summer, then played four games, then were off six more weeks.
“I think he’s capable of weekends like this consistently.”
Pavicich made 49 saves for the Bears, while Owen Millward stopped 29 for the Jets.
The Bears play at the Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros on Friday and Saturday. Minot has already played 18 games, while the Bears have just seven.
Murdock said the difference in games could lead to an interesting season. For instance, Murdock said Kenai River’s young defensemen played well against the Jets and are coming along on schedule, but they don’t have the same number of games as the Minotauros do.
Jets 6, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 2 0 1 —3
Janesville 3 3 0 —6
First period — 1. Kenai River, Helgeson (Thrun, Hadfield), 2:16; 2. Janesville, Bartecko (Destefani, Lucken), 4:08; 3. Janesville, Ezman (Schoen, Romer), pp, 10:17; 4. Janesville, Schoen (Lapointe, Romer), pp, 14:47; 5. Kenai River, Lajoie (Helgeson, Thrun), pp, 16:16. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 6. Janesville, Hottmann (Engelkes, Sweeney), 9:13; 7. Janesville, Destefani (Mell, Troutwine), 10:13; 8. Janesville, Schoen (Ezman, Dunlap), 17:49. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Wahlin (Reid, Dodge), 3:46. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 14-6-14—34; Janesville 12-15-12—39.
Goalies — Kenai River, Fraga (22 shots, 17 saves), Pavicich (17 shots, 16 saves); Janesville, Sims (34 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Janesville 3 for 5.
Brown Bears 9, Jets 5
Kenai River 3 2 4 —9
Janesville 0 3 2 —5
First period — 1. Kenai River, Helgeson (un.), 7:38; 2. Kenai River, Thrun (Lee, Szubert), pp, 12:14; 3. Kenai River, Helgeson (Thrun, Szubert), 19:10. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Janesville, Romer (Ott, Dunlap), 1:15; 5. Janesville, Aegerter (Daul), 2:27; 6. Janesville, Bartecko (Schoen, Casperson), 6:36; 7. Kenai River, Morgan (Winters, Schachle), 8:21; 8. Kenai River, Schachle (Morgan, Winters), 15:26. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 9. Kenai River, Winters (Pfister), 0:21; 10. Janesville, Casperson (Keryluk, Lucken), 4:51; 11. Kenai River, Helgeson (Wahlin), 9:47; 12. Janesville, Ezman (Schoen, Destefani), pp, 16:25; 13. Kenai River, Morgan (Szubert), 17:19; 14. Kenai River, Dodge (Reid, Poellinger), en, 19:19.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-15-11—38; Janesville 14-20-20—54.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavicich (54 shots, 49 saves); Janesville, Millward (37 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Janesville 1 for 3.