Brown Bears take series from Chill

Winter’s back, and so are the Kenai River Brown Bears.

The only place chill didn’t hold considerable sway this weekend was in the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, where the Bears emerged from a 14-game losing streak to take two of three from the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill.

Sunday, the Bears won the rubber match in the series 2-1 in front of 310 fans.

“We just played with total team effort,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Like (Chill coach) AJ (Degenhardt) said Friday, you have to play 60 minutes in this league if you expect to win.

“It was a hard-fought series that shows how much parity is in this league, and how good of a hockey club we can be.”

The chase is now officially on for the last playoff spot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.

Kenai River, at 13-26-2, trails the Minnesota Wilderness by two points. Both teams have 19 games to play.

The Chill are at 21-13-6 in the Midwest, seven points out of second but 18 points ahead of fourth.

After losing 1-0 Saturday, the Bears came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Chill 15-7 en route to a 36-34 advantage for the game.

Kenai River built some momentum killing off a penalty, getting a couple good short-handed chances at the 7:10 mark, and capitalized on that momentum at 6:46 when Jack Gessert sent a puck to the net that bounced off Maurin Bouvet and in.

The Gessert-Bouvet-Alex Jackstadt line, which was involved in four of the Bears’ five goals during the three-game series, kept clicking with 25 seconds left in the first.

Bouvet got the puck out front to Jackstadt. Somehow the puck found its way to Gessert, and he buried the opportunity. Gessert now has 21 goals on the season, three behind the league lead.

The Chill responded by controlling the first six minutes of play in the second period, but Kenai River held the fort with its improved defense and goaltending.

During the losing streak, the Bears gave up 4.9 goals a game. But they held Coulee to four goals in the series.

“It was a lot more perimeter shots,” said Kenai River goalie Alec Derks, who made 33 saves. “The D is doing a great job of keeping the puck away from the front of the net.”

Beauparlant said the defenders must be confident in the goalie’s ability to save those perimeter shots, more often than not without a rebound, in order for the defense to be solid.

Derks’ biggest moment came after the Bears took a 1-0 lead in the first period and Charlie Parker earned a breakaway. Derks stopped the initial charge as well as two more pretty good pokes.

“We got the situational saves this weekend from both guys,” Beauparlant said, also referring to Evan Hauser. “It was tough for Derks because he hadn’t played in four games.”

The goalies teamed up to take two of three from Adam Carlson, a Division I recruit who had 34 saves Sunday.

“It’s a good start for me and him, now we just have to keep going and pushing each other in practice,” Derks said.

The third period was a gut check for both teams, with long periods without a whistle on the big sports complex ice pushing fitness to the limit.

“When you play three in a row, it’s always going to be a grind on that third day, especially in the third period,” Gessert said. “But we found a way and got good contributions from the third and fourth lines.”

Derks said he only had to save about five shots of any real level of difficulty in the third.

The Bears now face the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild at 7 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Wild are 16-18-7 and coming off a Saturday win in Fairbanks.

“We’ll have a day off tomorrow, then take Tuesday and Wednesday to get ready for a really good Wenatchee team,” Gessert said.

Bears notes: Forward Colton Fletcher has been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. He comes off the list on Feb. 6.

Sunday

Brown Bears 2, Chill 1

Coulee Region 0 1 0 —1

Kenai River 2 0 0 —2

First period — 1. Kenai River, Bouvet (Andrews, Gessert), 13:14; 2. Kenai River, Gessert (Bouvet, Andrews), 19:35. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Second period — 3. Coulee Region, Lovick (Zehnal), 17:25. Penalties — Coulee Region 4 for 16:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.

Third period — none. Penalties — Coulee Region 2 for 12:00.

Shots on goal — Coulee Region 7-15-12—34; Kenai River 15-14-7—36.

Goalies — Coulee Region, Carlson (36 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Derks (34 shots, 33 saves).

Power plays — Coulee Region 0 for 3; Kenai River 0 for 3.

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