Kenai River forward Jack Gessert will be flying down to the North American Hockey League Top Prospects Tournament in his home state of Michigan on cloud nine.
Gessert had four goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to get the Bears a vital 6-5 victory over the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in front of 572.
“The whole line was really good,” said Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant, including Alex Jackstadt and Maurin Bouvet. “For the most part, they were paired with (Tyler) Andrews and (Gustav) Berglund, and they moved the puck really well.
“Jack had the hot stick.”
Beauparlant and Gessert, Andrews, Bouvet and Tanner Schachle immediately left to fly down to the Monday and Tuesday tournament.
With the Minnesota Magicians picking up a win Saturday night, the Bears’ win helped them stay in the hunt for the final playoff slot out of the NAHL Midwest Division.
Kenai River, which snapped an eight-game losing streak, is now 14-34-2 and five points behind the Magicians. Kenai River has 10 games left, while the Magicians have 12 games left.
“I think it was huge for our group after working so hard for two to three weeks and not getting rewarded,” Beauparlant said. “Tonight, we were rewarded for our effort and we hope to use that to go on a little run here.”
Johnstown falls to 21-20-6 and is in fourth place in the North Division.
Gessert had his first two goals in just over 10 minutes of play, but Alex Alger scored with 27 seconds left in the first period for a 2-1 game.
Then the Bears opened the second period with three unanswered goals for a 5-1 lead. Sam Carlson and Schachle found the back of the net, then Gessert netted his hat trick with 8 minutes, 52 seconds, left in the second period.
However, Johnstown began a frantic comeback when Josh Bowes scored before the end of the second.
The third period was then Zac Robbins time. Robbins came into the game with just five goals this season, but scored with 5:24, 3:11 and 1:45 left in the third period to tie the game.
“We allowed guys to get to the net instead of keeping them outside like we’d done all game,” Beauparlant said. “They were able to capitalize and some unfortunate bounces didn’t go our way.
“It was tough to swallow but the guys hung on and didn’t break.”
Just 33 second into overtime, Berglund took a two-minute penalty, but the Bears fought it off and Gessert ended the game just 18 seconds after the penalty kill. He caused a turnover in the Johnstown zone then finished the chance.
Alec Derks had 31 saves for the Bears. For the Tomahawks, Jacob Gwillim had 19 saves and gave up four goals, and Ryan Bednard had 11 saves in relief.
Friday, back in Alaska for the first time since decamping for Pennsylvania at the end of the 2011-12 season, the Johnstown franchise made itself right at home at the sports complex.
The franchise, which played in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys starting in the 2005-06 season, got 41 saves from Bednard in claiming a 3-1 victory in front of 457.
Bednard is on the NHL Central Scouting list and also will be a member of the NAHL Selects team at the Top Prospects Tournament.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder, who is already committed to Division I Bowling Green State University, played up to his credentials Friday.
“We think he gives us a chance to win every night,” said Tomahawks coach Mike Letizia. “When we’re not playing that well, like tonight, he keeps us in the game.”
The Bears outshot the Tomahawks 42-27 for the game.
“I think he played well, but I don’t know that we challenged him enough,” Beauparlant said. “He made the saves he had to make.”
Beauparlant said the Tomahawks did a great job of clogging up the area in front of the goal. Many of the Brown Bears shots were blocked by Johnstown players or went wide of the mark.
“When you block a lot of shots, it means the other team has the puck too much,” Letizia said. “The guys were giving themselves up for the team, and I’m proud of them for doing that.”
While Johnstown did not create a ton of great chances, the Tomahawks capitalized on most of those they did create. In the second, the Tomahawks lost on shots 14-7 but won on goals 3-0.
The squad from Pennsylvania struck first with 10 minutes, 9 seconds, left in the second period, when Tanner Barnes fed Robbins for a power-play goal.
“The power-play marker was a big-time swing in the game,” Beauparlant said.
The coach said the goal threw the Bears off their game for a bit, and Johnstown capitalized less than four minutes later on a Barnes goal.
Finally, with 22 seconds left in the period, Barnes and Alger broke out on a two-on-one, with Alger scoring.
The two-on-one move happened after a defensemen made an aggressive cut to the goal in the Johnstown end. Beauparlant said that’s normally a good play, but not in the final minute of the second period of a 2-0 game.
“We talk about situation management and that was a situation we didn’t manage well,” he said. “There’s a big difference going into the third period 2-0 as opposed to 3-0.”
The Bears recovered for a solid third period in which Alex Jackstadt found the back of the net, but Bednard would allow no more.
The Bears continue the playoff chase when they host the Keystone (Pennsylvania) Ice Miners on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex.
Tomahawks 3, Brown Bears 1
Johnstown 0 3 0 —3
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Johnstown, Robbins (Barnes, Spencer), pp, 9:51; 2. Johnstown, Barnes (Alger, Robbins), 14:33; 3. Johnstown, Alger (Barnes, Linkenheld), 19:38. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Solow, Gessert), 5:23. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Johnstown 12-7-8—27; Kenai River 17-14-11—42.
Goalies — Johnstown, Bednard (42 shots, 41 saves); Kenai River, Hauser (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Johnstown 1 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 3.
Brown Bears 6, Tomahawks 5, OT
Johnstown 1 1 3 0 —5
Kenai River 2 3 0 1 —6
First period — 1. Kenai River, Gessert (Bouvet, Jackstadt), 7:23; 2. Kenai River, Gessert (Jackstadt, Andrews), 10:03; 3. Johnstown, Alger (Barnes, Robbins), 19:33. Penalties — Johnstown 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Carlson (Nickels, Sardina), 7:18; 5. Kenai River, Schachle (Solow, Kaszupski), 7:35; 6. Kenai River, Gessert (Jackstadt, Bouvet), 11:08; 7. Johnstown, Bowes (Spencer, Hudson), 17:44. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 8. Johnstown, Robbins (Alger, Barnes), 14:36; 9. Johnstown, Robbins (Alger Barnes), pp, 16:49; 10. Johnstown, Robbins (Alger, Barnes), 18:15. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 11. Kenai River, Gessert (Chavez), 2:51. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Shots on goal — Johnstown 10-13-13-0—36; Kenai River 11-13-11-1—36.
Goalies — Johnstown, Gwillim (23 shots, 19 saves); Bednard (13 shots, 11 saves); Kenai River, Derks (36 shots, 31 saves).