It was the best of times and the worst of times at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for the Kenai River Brown Bears against the Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros this weekend.
The Bears won a riveting 2-1 shootout on Friday before getting blown out 6-1 on Saturday.
The Bears fall to 4-6 and into fourth place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. Minot moves to 4-2-1.
“We had shown character last night in how we gutted it out, then tonight it was almost like we came in expecting to take two points instead of having to go earn them,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said.
Goalie Zach Quinn was pulled after five goals, but Beauparlant said none were his fault.
“We were hanging him out to dry and we weren’t picking up assignments,” he said.
The coach said the Bears played as individuals, not a team.
“Each guy has to go home and look in the mirror and decided whether they are going to commit to the way they are asked to play as an organization, or whether they want to play as individuals,” Beauparlant said.
Bears spirits Friday were different, thanks to clutch play by a 17-year-old.
Tanner Schachle could be playing Midget hockey right now, getting ready to take the sports complex ice as a senior for Wasilla High School battling Soldotna and Kenai Central.
Instead, Schachle is taking to that same sports complex ice and scoring clutch, game-winning goals for the Bears.
Schachle, the fifth and last shooter in the shootout, broke 1-1 shootout tie with a nifty backhand move to give the Brown Bears a 2-1 victory Friday in front of 820.
“There’s nothing like going to the young guy to win the game,” Beauparlant said.
Nick Monfils put the Minotauros up 1-0 in the second round of the shootout, but Kenai River’s Christopher Usov tied it with a backhand in the fourth round.
“It relieved the tension,” Beauparlant said. “That was a nice moment for him because he has been having trouble finding the back of the net.”
After Brown Bears netminder Josh Creelman punctuated a stout night in net by denying Chase Springman, Beauparlant called Schachle’s number.
Schachle said he had no idea he would be chosen to take the pressure-packed shot, but he said he usually gets past the first round when the Bears do shootouts in practice, so he wasn’t caught completely off-guard.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder recalled as he stepped on the ice how the first three Bears had tried to take shots on Minot goalie Atte Tolvanen and failed, but Usov had succeeded with a move.
“I had to clear my head and think about what I was going to do,” he said. “Then I put it in the back of the net.”
That put an end to a riveting goalies’ duel between Tolvanen, who had 37 saves, and Creelman, who had 39.
Both Beauparlant and Minot coach Marty Murray agreed the goalies were both outstanding.
And as a former goalie himself, amazing powers of deduction are not needed to divine how much Beauparlant enjoyed the contest.
“I thought it was one of the best games I’ve been in, in a while,” Beauparlant said.
Both goalies sailed through the first two periods with clean sheets.
Creelman said he didn’t feel particularly sharp and gave credit to the Bears for keeping shots outside, not making any bad turnovers and holding the Minotauros to one shot most of the time.
“I took a shot in the head in the pregame skate,” Creelman said. “It rattled me a little bit. I had a little bit of a headache.”
With 5:39 to play, the Brown Bears broke the ice when Sam Carlson was forechecking in the corner and the puck took an awkward bounce to Maurin Bouvet, who buried the wide-open chance from the slot.
“We tried to go D to D behind the net and it hit a skate or a stick and bounced into the slot area,” Murray said. “We didn’t manage the puck well at times and it cost us.”
But the Minotauros stormed right back. With 5:19 to play, Jack Gessert didn’t like his goalie getting a face full of ice and dumped the offending player, drawing two minutes for roughing.
Just 18 seconds into the power play, Bouvet was whistled for a trip, and James Mathias scored from the slot on the 5-on-3 after some nice tic-tac-toe passing.
“We took two undisciplined penalties and it cost us,” Beauparlant said.
In the five-minute overtime, Kenai River had a pair of great chances with 3:40 left, then Tyler Andrews showed great patience in setting Bouvet up with an open backdoor opportunity, but the puck got away from the Frenchman on the chopped-up ice.
At the 2:16 mark, it was Creelman’s turn to save the day when he denied Monfils on a breakaway.
“I was nervous when he was coming down, but he had a lot of pressure with guys backchecking,” Creelman said. “I knew he had time for one move, or two moves max.”
In addition to Creelman, Beauparlant credited centers Bouvet, Matt Rudin and Jacob Gerson with a strong effort. Teams normally play with four centers, but the Bears went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen Friday.
Brown Bears 2, Minotauros 1
Minot 0 0 1 0 0 —1
Kenai River 0 0 1 0 1 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Minot 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Minot 2 for 12:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 1. Kenai River, Bouvet (un.), 14:21; 2. Minot, Mathias (Mohs, Lizotte), pp, 16:04. Penalties — Minot 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Minot 1 (Kramer NG, Monfils G, Mohs NG, Lizotte NG, Springman NG); Kenai River 2 (Ehlers NG, Berglund NG, Sardina NG, Usov G, Schachle G).
Shots on goal — Minot 12-12-13-3—40; Kenai River 10-11-12-5—38.
Goalies — Minot (Tolvanen 38 shots, 37 saves); Kenai River, Creelman (40 shots, 39 saves).