The Kenai River Brown Bears are one win away from the first playoff series victory in franchise history.
The Brown Bears, a franchise starting in 2007, beat the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets 6-4 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday to lead the best-of-five series 2-0. The Bears, No. 4 from the Midwest Division, now can close out the series against the top-seeded Jets on Friday at 4 p.m. AKDT at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. The Bears are basing their hockey operations in the Midwest for the playoffs.
“The next win will be the hardest one, that’s for sure,” Kenai River interim head coach Josh Dubinsky said. “At the same time, we’re playing well right now. I have a lot of confidence in our guys.”
The Jets and Brown Bears both play a high-scoring brand of hockey and that didn’t change in the playoffs.
“We probably thought it would be tighter like a playoff game but it ended up very similar to the 10 regular season games with them,” Kenai River interim head coach Josh Dubinsky said.
Kenai River is built to play fast, high-scoring hockey, which is why Dubinsky likes the matchup as long as the Bears are burying chances. They did that Friday and Saturday.
Friday, Kenai River’s Daymin Dodge had the lone goal of the first as the Bears killed off a power play early and scored shortly after that.
In the second period the Bears got two power-play goals from Morgan Winters and additional power-play tallies from Jake Veri and Brandon McNamara as they led 5-1 headed to the third. Shane Ott had a second-period goal for Janesville.
“We came out in the second and drew a bunch of penalties as a result of hard work,” Dubinsky said.
In the third, Anchorage’s Max Helgeson immediately answered a Cade Destefani power-play goal and the game went to the last 10 minutes with the Bears up 6-2. Ott and Dominik Bartecko scored late for Janesville.
Luke Pavicich stopped 39 for the Bears, while Riley Sims gave up five goals on 29 shots and Owen Millward stopped 6 of 7 for Janesville.
“It’s weird to say a goalie played really well if he let up four goals, but he did,” Dubinsky said of Pavicich.
Saturday, Kenai River’s penalty kill came up huge, allowing just one goal on eight power plays. The Bears got one power-play goal in three tries.
“Then, we played a lot better five-on-five than we did Friday,” Dubinsky said.
In the first, Gramm McCormack and Daymin Dodge gave the team a 2-0 lead, but Janesville’s Nick Leyer cut it to 2-1 head to the second. Dodge and Peter Morgan scored in the second, then Theo Thrun clinched it with 57 seconds left on an empty-netter.
Pavicich stopped 44, while Sims saved 30.
“He was really, really good, as he’s been pretty much all season,” Dubinsky said of Pavicich.
Brown Bears 6, Jets 4
Kenai River 1 4 1 —6
Janesville 0 1 3 —4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Dodge (Helgeson), 3:03. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Winters (Reid, Morgan), pp, 0:57; 3. Janesville, Ott (Kring), 1:46; 4. Kenai River, Veri (Thrun, Hill), pp, 7:06; 5. Kenai River, Winters (Reid, Morgan), pp, 13:42; 6. Kenai River, McNamara (McCormack, Green), pp, 15:06. Penalites — Kenai River 5 for 10:00; Janesville 6 for 33:00.
Third period — 7. Janesville, Destefani (Schoen, Romer), pp, 0:19; 8. Kenai River, Helgeson (un.), sh, 1:05; 9. Janesville, Ott (Schoen, Destefani), 11:52; 10. Janesville, Bartecko (Itagaki, Casperson), 16:56. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 15-16-5—36; Janesville 12-17-14—43.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavicich (43 shots, 39 saves); Janesville, Sims (29 shots, 24 saves), Millward (7 shots, 6 saves).
Brown Bears 5, Jets 1
Kenai River 2 2 1 —5
Janesville 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai River, McCormack (Dubicki, Vieten), 3:19; 2. Kenai River, Dodge (Morgan, Wahlin), 7:26; 3. Janesville, Leyer (Mell), pp, 13:47. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Dodge (Poellinger, Wahlin), 1:36; 5. Kenai River, Morgan (Pfister, Wahlin), pp, 13:15. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Janesville 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Thrun (un.), en, 19:03. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 5 for 31:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 14-14-7—35; Janesville 22-11-12—45.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavicich (45 shots, 44 saves); Janesville, Sims (34 shots, 30 saves).