The Kenai River Brown Bears won their second straight game, going on the road to top the Minnesota Magicians 2-1 on Thursday in North American Hockey League play.
The victory moved the Brown Bears (11-13-2-1) into sole possession of fourth place in the Midwest Division, while the division-leading Magicians fall to 18-7-0-0.
Before this two-game streak, the Bears had been on an eight-game winless streak during which they were losing, and not winning, the close ones. The turnaround came after a Nov. 30 loss in Fairbanks when the team had a players-only meeting.
“They identified what type of team they wanted to be,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “It wasn’t forced by coaches or it wasn’t forced by tradition. It was our current team doing it.”
Petrich said the leadership group on the team is eight to 10 players and that group does a great job. The team decided to win board battles, net-front battles, battles near the blue line and to be a family that plays for one another.
“They’ve been aggressive,” Petrich said. “I told them in the middle of last Saturday’s game, nobody is going to give us points. We have to take them.”
After a scoreless first period, JJ Boucher had his first NAHL goal just six seconds in to the second period, assisted by Alex Klekotka and Michael Spethmann.
“It’s a huge relief for him,” Petrich said of Boucher. “We talked about giving him the puck for that goal, but this is his third year playing junior hockey. He expects to be a leader and contribute.”
Minnesota tied the game headed into the third period, but Spethmann, assisted by Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and Soldotna’s Preston Weeks, scored the game-winner short-handed with 17:41 left to play.
Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright closed the door from there, making 25 saves while Ethan Haider of Minnesota saved 31.
“We’re not giving up a lot of goals,” Petrich said. “In the second period, they had too many chances, but in the first period they hardly had any. In the third, they cleaned it up and made life a lot easier for Gavin.”
The Bears play Friday at 4:15 p.m. AST and Saturday at 4 p.m. AST against the Magicians to polish off three straight three-game weekends.
“I thought we looked fresh, though we did have a tough day of travel Sunday,” Petrich said. “They’re going to be eager to come back in their own building, so tomorrow we’ll have to be as good or better.”
Brown Bears 2, Magicians 1
Kenai River 0 1 1 — 2
Minnesota 0 1 0 — 1
First period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Boucher (Klekotka, Spethmann), 0:06; 2. Minnesota, Pavey (un.), 19:39. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Spethmann (Krajnik, Weeks), sh, 2:19. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-15-8—33; Minnesota 7-10-9—26.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (26 shots, 25 saves); Minnesota, Haider (33 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 5; Minnesota 0 for 3.