Brown Bears topple Jets in opener

Brown Bears topple Jets in opener

The Kenai River Brown Bears opened the season by going into the home of one of the North American Hockey League’s top franchises and emerging with a clean sweep.

The Bears, who finished with the second worst record in the league last season, notched a 5-2 Friday victory and 7-3 Saturday victory over the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets, who had the fifth best record in the league last season.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” said Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich, starting his second season at the helm. “They showed up and competed and executed the concepts we wanted to work on.

“They didn’t give up. They continued to go, go, go. I’m excited to see where this team goes.”

The Bears started the season Friday by taking a 3-0 lead and making it hold up.

“The message is 100 percent that it is only one game of a 60-game season,” Petrich said. “The thing I take away is I’m proud of the preparation and effort from the get-go.

“We were a slow-going team last year and got better as the game went on. Tonight, we sustained right away.”

Filip Karlsson finished last season with a flourish for the Bears and picked up right where he left off Friday night.

With just 12 seconds left in the first period, Karlsson scored on the power play by winning a scrap in front of the net. Connor Scahill and Johan Bok assisted.

Just 2:56 into the second period, Eagle River’s Sutton McDonald made it 2-0 when he pounded in a rebound off a JJ Boucher shot. Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik started the play.

“The overlying theme is the guys are buying into the concepts we are talking about,” Petrich said.

After Karlsson made it 3-0 with 12:26 left in the second on assists from Alex Klekotka and Michael Spethmann, Janesville called timeout.

“They went away from trying to make skill plays to chipping the puck and making races,” Petrich said. “We struggled to adjust right away.”

The Jets scored twice before the end of the second period by going to the net in traffic.

On the road against a traditional powerhouse, the Bears were able to retake control of the game in the third period.

“We went into the third period ready for the chip and chase,” Petrich said. “The wings had to block shots and the guys did well.

“I think we had more blocked shots tonight than in the first half of the year last year.”

Petrich said Boucher, a defenseman from Ottawa, Canada, and the Bears’ first round pick this year, had at least eight blocked shots. Boucher already has two years of experience in the Junior A Central Canada Hockey League. He has one year of junior eligibility after this season.

“He’s a mature kid and a veteran kid,” Petrich said. “He’s not wearing one of our letters, but he’s a leader. We’re very excited about him.”

Soldotna’s Preston Weeks gave the Bears a 4-2 cushion with 10:31 left in the third on an assist from McDonald. Logan Ritchie hit the pipe on an empty net with 26 seconds left to play and Spethmann was there to ice the game on the rebound.

Gavin Enright made 30 saves for the Bears, while Garrett Nieto stopped 32 for the Jets.

“We were up 4-2 in the third and he had a huge save on the back door with his blocker,” Petrich said. “I felt my groin pull when he got back there.”

Petrich said he gave the players 10 or 15 minutes to savor the victory before getting ready for Saturday’s game.

Fans, however, got to take longer than that.

“I had 30-plus text messages from people surrounding the program near and far,” Petrich said. “I can’t thank them enough. This win is for the guys on the roster but it’s also a win for Brown Bear nation.”

Saturday, the Bears again got off to a good start and closed strong, dominating the Jets to the tune of 4-0 in goals and 14-5 in shot count over the final 20 minutes.

“We capitalized early on that first goal in the third period and dominated the rest of the way,” Petrich said.

In the first, Kenai River got on the board 4:23 in when Bok scored on assists from Scahill and Krajnik. Janesville made it 1-1 after one on a power-play goal.

McDonald, assisted by Boucher, put the Bears up again, but again Janesville answered. Andy Walker, assisted by Thomas Walker and Trevor Schroder, put Kenai River up 3-2, but Janesville answered again on the power play for a 3-3 score heading into the third period.

“My five-on-five controlled play through the entire game,” Petrich said. “Most of their opportunities and two of their goals came on the power play.”

In the third period, Janesville didn’t have any power plays, while Kenai River had three, and that’s when the Bears took control. The goals were Jack Conroy assisted by Justin Daly, Spethmann assisted by Boucher and Komuls on the power play, Wasilla’s Porter Schachle assisted by Klekotka and Komuls, and Andy Walker assisted by Komuls and Boucher on the power play.

“Jack Conroy and Porter Schachle were scratches last night and came in and scored goals,” Petrich said. “We moved three guys in and out, plus a change in goal, and didn’t miss a beat. I’m happy with the depth.”

Dennis Westergard had 23 saves for the Bears, while Nieto stopped 28 for Janesville.

The Bears start play at the NAHL Showcase on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. against the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats. It’s the start of four games in four days.

“We’re going to have to use all 26 guys we have with us,” Petrich said. “Four in four is difficult on guys’ bodies.”

Friday

Brown Bears 5, Jets 2

Kenai River 1 2 2 —5

Janesville 0 2 0 —2

First period — 1. Kenai River, Karlsson (Scahill, Bok), pp, 19:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 5 for 18:00.

Second period — 2. Kenai River, McDonald (Boucher, Krajnik), 2:56; 3. Kenai River, Karlsson (Klekotka, Spethmann), 7:34; 4. Janesville, MacLaren (Leraio, Sagissor), 12:56; 5. Janesville, Hicks (Salquist, Middleton), 13:43. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.

Third period — 6. Kenai River, Weeks (McDonald), 9:29; 7. Kenai River, Spethmann (Ritchie), en, 19:34. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-13-13—37; Janesville 8-17-7—32.

Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (32 shots, 30 saves); Janesville, Nieto (37 shots, 32 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Janesville 0 for 5.

Saturday

Brown Bears 7, Jets 3

Kenai River 1 2 4 — 7

Janesville 1 2 0 — 3

First period — 1. Kenai River, Bok (Scahill, Krajnik), 4:23; 2. Janesville, Bargholtz (Salquist, Weis), pp, 11:57. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.

Second period — 3. Kenai River, McDonald (Boucher), 5:06; 4. Janesville, Bargholtz (Doyle, Hicks), 11:54; 5. Kenai River, A. Walker (T. Walker, Schroder), 16:06; 6. Janesville, Hicks (Palmqvist, Bargholtz), pp, 19:21. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 16:00; Janesville 2 for 12:00.

Third period — 7. Kenai River, Conroy (Daly), 1:40; 8. Kenai River, Spethmann (Boucher, Komuls), 4:45; 9. Kenai River, Schachle (Klekotka, Komuls), 7:09; 10. Kenai River, A. Walker (Komuls, Boucher), pp, 12:07. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Janesville 4 for 8:00.

Shots — Kenai River 8-13-14—35; Janesville 4-17-5—26.

Goalies — Kenai River, Westergard (26 shots, 23 saves); Janesville, Nieto (35 shots, 28 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 4, Janesville 2 for 4.

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