Brown Bears top Magicians

With the rest of the North American Hockey League pulling away in the point standings, the Kenai River Brown Bears needed a win Friday to jumpstart their weekend series with the Minnesota Magicians.

They got just that, using a strong finish to propel themsevles to a 4-2 win in front of 901 fans at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex Friday night. Kenai River defenseman Austin Chavez mailed home the gamewinner early in the third period to clinch the game.

The win still left Kenai River (9-11-0) in the basement of the NAHL Midwest division standings, but the two points ensured the Bears didn’t drop any further than they were.

“It’s preparation,” explained Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant. “We’ve talked to our guys about being ready and executing right from the get-go and not resting on what we accomplished tonight.

“It’s a step in the right direction.”

The Brown Bears hold 18 points, three behind the Minnesota Wilderness and the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (15-7-1) continue to lead the division with 31 points, even after being handed a 6-3 loss Friday night by the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild.

Friday against Minnesota, the Brown Bears went 2 for 4 on the power play. The Bears also displayed an impressive penalty kill, not only stopping all three Minnesota opportunities in the game but holding the Magicians to only three shots on goal in the third period with two power plays.

“Special teams are important,” Beauparlant said. “It can swing a game either way … we were solid in both aspects tonight and will need to be again tomorrow.”

The two squads face off against Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

The win is the third time out of seven this season that Kenai River has started a weekend series with a win. None resulted in sweeps. It also leaves the Bears with a 2-1 mark against the Magicians this season.

Kenai River defenseman Ben Campbell notched his first goal of the season in the first period, then added a second in the third with an empty-netter, and forward Jack Gessert had a pair of assists.

“It’s important to win Friday night, it gives us a chance to sweep,” Campbell said. “You can’t sweep Saturday unless you win Friday.”

Campbell, a native Minnesotan himself, said he believes the efficiency of the team has improved since their last game, Saturday night in Fairbanks.

“It felt good to rebound right away when we got on the power play,” Campbell said. “We’ve been working on it quite a bit, and it’s finally starting to click.”

Things did not look rosy for the Bears in the early minutes. Minnesota netted the first goal a mere 28 seconds into the game, as Lukas Laub found some space near the right circle and scored easily on Bears goalie Alec Derks, who ultimately saved 21 of 23 shots on the night.

“It’s never good when they score early, but you gotta stay up on the bench,” Campbell said. “It’s got to be all positivity coming from the team. No negativity, can’t get down on guys, and you just gotta worry about getting back into it.”

Just past the halfway mark of the first period, however, the Bears responded while on the power play. 30 seconds after a slashing penalty, the puck bounced out of a frantic shuffle in front of the Minnesota goal and right at the stick of Campbell, who scored the equalizer.

Just 48 ticks later, Maurin Bouvet put the Bears ahead with a slick shot on an odd-man rush.

After Thomas Delaney responded with a goal 50 seconds after that to tie the game at two goals apiece, that was how it stayed for the next 33:29 of the game.

One of the biggest moments came early in the third period, when the Magicians were handed a five-minute penalty after Minnesota forward Kelly O’Brien was ejected for head contact.

It took just over two minutes for the Bears to score the go-ahead goal. Austin Chavez corraled the puck and shot from the left circle to put the Bears ahead.

After a five-minute penalty by Kenai River allowed Fairbanks to score twice in the final period of play last Saturday, Beauparlant said it felt like a bit of retribution.

“Whenever you go on the power play, you want to score and create chances,” Beauparlant said. “Last week, a five-minute major (penalty) came back to bite us, and this week it helped us.”

The Bears had to stave off one final penalty in the final two minutes of the game while trying to preserve the one-goal lead, but only 60 seconds went by before Campbell managed to get his stick on the puck and send it towards the empty net of Minnesota for the insurance goal.

Even with two penalty kill situations, Kenai River outshot Minnesota 17-3 in the period.

“We’ve been in that situation two or three times with the lead, so we’ve had a solid penalty kill all year,” Beauparlant said. “I thought our guys did a nice job of giving a second effort to make the plays happen.”

Campbell added, “Our goal is to be over one-hundred percent on our special teams combined. It’s good to see success on both ends of the ice.”

Brown Bears 4, Magicians 2

Kenai River    2    0    2    —4
Minnesota    2    0    0    —2

1st period — 1. Minnesota, Laub (unassisted), :28; 2. Kenai River, Campbell (Rudin, Gessert), PP, 10:31; 3. Kenai River, Bouvet (Gessert), 11:18; 4. Minnesota, Delaney (Michaelis, Uglem), 12:09. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 5. Kenai River, Chavez (Nickels), PP, 5:38; 6. Kenai River, Campbell (Andrews, Jackstadt), EN, 18:50. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 3 for 17:00.

Shots — Kenai River 12-6-17—35; Minnesota 12-8-3—23.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (23 shots, 21 saves); Minnesota, Amsden (34 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2-4; Minnesota 0-3.

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