The visiting Kenai River Brown Bears dropped a pair of games to the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play.
Friday, the Bears snapped a three-game pointless streak with a 5-4 overtime loss. Saturday, Kenai River fell 6-1 to extend a winless streak to 14.
The Bears fell to 3-45-3 with the losses, while the Chill moved to 26-21-0 and are just four points out of fourth place and the final playoff slot in the Midwest Division.
For the Bears, Friday’s game came on the heels of coming within 24 seconds of picking up at least a point Saturday in a 4-3 loss to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
“We’re knocking on the door,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “We’re very close to getting over that hurdle. We’ve just got to keep believing.
“That’s the hardest thing to do when you’re losing — believing you can win. We’re getting close to taking that next step forward.”
The Bears got that point thanks to goalie Magnus Lindhe. With 15 seconds left, the Bears were called for intentionally knocking the goal off its moorings, giving Coulee’s Kevin Dineen a penalty shot.
Lindhe was up to the task.
“Mags stood on his head and made a big save,” Worlton said.
Just 11 seconds into overtime, though, Nico Luka secured the win for the Chill.
“They’re a good team and have some forwards that can put the puck in the back of the net,” Worlton said. “We lost track of a guy. It was a mistake on our part and they capitalized on it.”
After Coulee’s Scott Corbett gave his squad a 1-0 lead in the first, Joey Sardina, assisted by Jeff Fasegha and Mike Taormina, equalized just 25 seconds later.
“We’ve been working on him going to hard areas, going to the net and being willing to give up his body,” Worlton said of Sardina. “That’s what he did to make that play.”
Coulee scored short-handed to take a 2-1 lead into the first break, and Phil Erickson improved the lead to 3-1 just 2 minutes, 27 seconds, into the second.
Kenai River goalie Nick Nast was pulled after the second goal.
“I felt like the team was looking at me to do something so I made a move,” Worlton said.
Despite spending a good deal of the second period killing penalties, Cory Dennis, assisted by Connor Inger and Evan Butcher, and Gunnar Goodmanson, assisted by Davis Sebald and Austin Junger, had it 3-3 going into the third.
Worlton said Inger made a nice play to pull up wide and pick out Dennis on the first goal. It was the first NAHL tally for Dennis, who came from the NA3HL, will stay with the Bears for the rest of the year and be Kenai River’s property heading into next season.
On the second goal of the second period, Worlton said Goodmanson worked hard and got to the net.
Dominik Florian scored on the power play to put Coulee Region up in the third, but Jordan Hank, assisted by Nick Klishko and Inger, scored the equalizer with 5:55 to play.
Coulee Region was 1 for 9 on the power play, while Kenai River was 1 for 7.
“It wasn’t a pretty play,” Worlton said of the power-play tally. “They shot the puck and followed up with a rebound lying on the ice.
“It’s good to see they are going to the hard areas and playing for the team. That’s the biggest difference, the guys are playing for the team.”
Preston Weeks, a former standout for Soldotna High School, suited up for Kenai River on Friday and Saturday. He has four more years of junior eligibility after this season.
“Being a ‘99 birth year, his future is really bright,” Worlton said.
Affiliate player Zach Shapiro also skated for the Bears on Friday and Saturday.
Saturday, the Chill immediately took control of the game with four goals in the first period, including a strike by Alex Lambacher just 1:49 into the contest. Larry Jungwirth, Erickson and Justin Kendall also tallied in the first.
“We didn’t come out to play in the first period and it cost us the game,” Worlton said. “We had a disallowed goal that would have made it 1-1, but we kind of took a step back in the first period.”
The coach said it just proves the Bears have to play all 60 minutes.
“If we choose to play 60 minutes, we can compete with anybody,” Worlton said. “We’re just not talented enough to not play for 60 minutes.”
Lindhe was pulled after the first three goals in favor of Nast.
“It wasn’t really anything he did,” Worlton said. “It goes back to the team wasn’t ready to go.”
After getting outshot 17-11 in the first period, Kenai River outshot Coulee 23-20 for the rest of the game.
The Bears won the second period when Evan Butcher scored short-handed on assists from Tanner Dufault and Preston Weeks. Coulee won the third when Erickson and Joey Sofo scored.
The Bears stay on the road to face the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues on Friday and Saturday at 4:05 p.m. AST.
Chill 5, Brown Bears 4, OT
Kenai River 1 2 1 0 —4
Coulee Region 2 1 1 1 —5
First period — 1. Coulee Region, Corbett (Doran), 6:55; 2. Kenai River, Sardina (Fasegha, Taormina), 7:20; 3. Coulee Region, Florian (Luka, Theisen), sh, 10:38. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Coulee Region, Erickson (Kuzmeski, Charlesworth), 2:27; 5. Kenai River, Dennis (Inger, Butcher), 3:54; 6. Kenai River, Goodmanson (Sebald, Junger), 11:55. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 30:00; Coulee Region 4 for 16:00.
Third period — 7. Coulee Region, Florian (Charlesworth, Kuzmeski), pp, 7:22; 8. Kenai River, Hank (Klishko, Inger), pp, 14:05. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Coulee Region 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-8-9-0—28; Coulee Region 11-18-20-2—51.
Goalies — Kenai River, Nast (5 shots, 3 saves); Linde (46 shots, 43 saves); Coulee Region, Kivlenieks (28 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 7; Coulee Region 1 for 9.
Chill 6, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
Coulee Region 4 0 2 —6
First period — 1. Coulee Region, Lambacher (Corbett, Kuzmeski), 1:49; 2. Coulee Region, Jungwirth (Dineen, Charlesworth), 8:25; 3. Coulee Region, Erickson (Florian, Doran), 11:27; 4. Coulee Region, Kendall (Jungwirth, Dineen), 17:14. Penalties — none.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Butcher (Dufault, Weeks), sh, 4:12. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Coulee Region 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 6. Coulee Region, Erickson (Corbett), 12:56; 7. Coulee Region, Sofo (Falconer, Zembergs), 19:11. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 15:00; Coulee Region 4 for 27:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-11-12—34; Coulee Region 17-16-4—37.
Goalies — Kenai River, Lindhe (12 shots, 9 saves), Nast (25 shots, 22 saves); Coulee Region, Vorva (34 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Coulee Region 0 for 2.