It was the story of the kid who left home facing his old team.
Kenai River Brown Bears netminder Gavin Enright did just that Thursday night and prevailed.
“It’s always fun beating your old guys,” Enright said.
The 18-year-old Farmington, Minnesota, native stood tall at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to lead the Brown Bears to a 4-2 division win over the Minnesota Magicians.
The victory left Kenai River 6-7-0-0 and with 12 points, tied for fourth in the North American Hockey League Midwest division. Minnesota (6-4-1-1) is third with 14 points, while Janesville (Wisconsin) sits atop the division with 22 points.
Enright was on his game all night, warding off a barrage of tough shots from Minnesota with his team holding a one-goal lead in the second and third periods. Enright ended the night with 38 saves on 40 shots, and had just one goal on his sheet until an essentially meaningless power-play strike went in with 17 seconds left in the game.
This coming on a night he believed he could have been better.
“The first two periods I think I was a little off my game,” Enright said. “I felt mentally slow, but my defense helped by clearing pucks.”
Enright grew up 30 minutes south of Richfield, Minnesota, where the Magicians play, and said most of the team out on the ice Thursday night were friends and acquaintances of his.
And with just one goal allowed through the first 59 minutes, 43 seconds, of game time, Enright had the upper hand on his old mates.
Kenai product Ross Hanson got the crowd on its feet early with his first goal on home ice as a Brown Bear, his third overall this season, and Markuss Komuls added an insurance goal midway through the third period to help pave the way to victory. Gil Garcia and Luke Radetic scored for Kenai River as well.
Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich said the strong performance was indicative of the turnaround that he hopes the club is experiencing.
“We’re trying to develop and implement that type of play that hasn’t been positive in the past,” Petrich said. “Good teams find a way to win games like this.”
Kenai River leads the Midwest Division in penalty minutes this year, but almost made it through Thursday night without a single offense. It wasn’t until 40 seconds to go in the game that the Bears had a player sent to the box, a roughing minor charged to Sam Sterne.
The ensuing Minnesota power play resulted in a goal against the Bears, and while meaningless in the final outcome, Petrich said it is important to keep a division rival from building up momentum into the next two nights.
“In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t hurt us,” he said. “But systematically, we like to keep a good penalty kill and eliminate second chances.”
Hanson got the night started off on the right note moments after the Bears won a faceoff from the right circle. David Kaplan quickly corralled the puck and was denied by Magicians goaltender Isaiah Saville, but Hanson caught the rebound amid a scrum of players and knocked in the goal for a 1-0 lead and his third of the season.
Garcia added to the lead with a determined goal set up by Emils Ezitis, who found space along the left side of the ice, fell to his side but still managed to shovel the pass to Garcia on the right to put Kenai River up 2-0. It was goal No. 9 for Garcia this year.
It took only 19 seconds for the excitement to die down when Minnesota answered with its first goal of the night, a wide-open shot by Kyler Grundy, who took advantage of a Bears turnover to cut the lead in half before the first period ended.
Kenai River kept charging in the second period with a 16-11 shots on goal tally, but ultimately finished with a scoreless frame.
Finally, Komuls bolstered the home lead to 3-1 with 8:46 to go in the third on an assist from Gabriel Wahl with a forehand shot from the right circle. Radetic iced the game with an empty-netter two minutes from the buzzer, and just seconds after Saville exited the ice.
The Bears and Magicians continue play tonight and Saturday with puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Brown Bears 4, Magicians 2
Minnesota 1 0 1 —2
Kenai River 2 0 2 —4
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Hanson (Kaplan), 11:32; 2. Kenai River, Garcia (Ezitis), 18:14; 3. Minnesota, Grundy (Keranen), 18:33. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — no scoring. Penalties — none.
3rd period — 4. Kenai River, Komuls (Radetic, Wahl), 11:14; 5. Kenai River, Radetic (Guillemain, McDonald), 17:56; 6. Minnesota, Lee (Denman), PP, 19:43. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Minnesota 10-11-19—40; Kenai River 13-16-11—40.
Goalies — Minnesota, Saville (36 saves, 39 shots); Kenai River, Enright (38 saves, 40 shots).
Power plays — Minnesota 1 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 0.