A pair of losses to cap a three-week road trip does not look great on paper, but Jeff Worlton, head coach of the Kenai River Brown Bears, is not panicking.
The Brown Bears dropped a pair of North American Hockey League games Friday and Saturday to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets, losing 4-3 on Friday and 5-2 Saturday.
Janesville, the second-best team in the league by point total, leads the Midwest Division that Kenai River plays in, but Worlton said he was optimistic about the way the Bears competed with the Jets, even if the results don’t show it.
“From the outside looking in, yes it looks bad, but they’re one of the best teams in the league,” Worlton said. “The last time, we played them to one goal, and (Saturday), we were right with them.
“It’s just our mental mistakes that cost us, and that’s the biggest thing, our own mental mistakes.”
Kenai River remains last in the NAHL Midwest Division at 10-36-2-0, nearly out of contention for a playoff spot. At 24 points behind the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues, the last team currently in the playoff picture, and with 12 games left in Kenai River’s season, the Brown Bears must win out to have a shot.
Saturday’s loss was Kenai River’s ninth straight, and the Bears found themselves in an early 2-0 hole after the Jets scored off goals from David Schmidling and Chris Dodero.
By the 11:18 mark of the second period, Janesville had added two more to fatten its lead to 4-0. Worlton said even with the team facing a four-goal deficit, he was glad to see no one relaxing.
“I looked at them, looked at their leadership, and asked them what they wanted to do,” Worlton said. “They kept working and getting opportunities to outshoot them.”
On the tail end of a six-game road trip, Worlton said the Bears need to win a game once they return home for a weekend series against the Minnesota Magicians.
“We have to take better care and attention to details,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to get a win.”
Against the Jet, Kenai River struggled even while on the power play. Between the two days, the Bears gave up three short-handed goals to Janesville.
“Our power play isn’t very good right now, it’s just tough right now in every aspect of the game for us,” Worlton said. “We’re going through some growing pains … it’s going to turn around for us, it’s just a matter of when.”
After falling into a 4-0 hole, Sam Sterne helped right the ship by scoring on a Kenai River power play.
Ryan Mezera added a second goal for the Bears midway through the third period, but the damage had been done. In the first two periods combined, the Jets outshot the Bears 35-17.
Robbie Goor stopped 33 shots between the pipes for Kenai River, while Jacob Barczewski earned the win for Janesville with 28 of 30 shots saved.
Friday, the Brown Bears rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the game in the second period, but Janesville still came out on top 4-3 with the go-ahead goal from Jakov Novak with 1:43 remaining in the second.
The fisticuffs broke out with 11 seconds to go in the second period, leading to major penalties charged to six players, including Kenai River’s Jordan Holmes, Ryan Mezera and Lucas Carroll.
In the third period, the Bears failed to find a way to overcome the one-goal lead, as the Jets outshot them 12-4.
Earlier in the game, Janesville took a 2-0 lead with goals from Cullen Munson and Cole Paskus, but the Bears cut the lead in half with a power play strike from Sam Sterne late in the going.
After an early short-handed netter from Joseph Abate once again put Janesville up by two, the Bears had an answer in the second period. Evan Butcher slotted home a shorty goal himself with seven minutes to go and Jonathan Marzec tied the proceedings at 3-all with 4:42 to play in the period.
Colt Hanks stopped 34 shots for Kenai River, while Barczewski took the win for Janesville with 18 saves on 21 shots.
Jets 4, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 1 2 0 — 3
Janesville 2 2 0 — 4
First period — 1. Janesville, Munson (Gates, Hoffman), PP, 11:23; 2. Janesville, Paskus (Felix, Bates), PP, 14:58; 3. Kenai River, Sterne (Vincent, Klekotka), PP, 17:00. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 27:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Janesville, Abate (Hoffman, Grissom), SH, 5:09; 5. Kenai River, Butcher (Weeks, Lipe), SH, 13:02; 6. Kenai River, Marzec (Vincent, Klekotka), 15:18; 7. Janesville, Novak (Schmidling, Munson), 18:17. Penalties — Kenai River 8 for 57:00; Janesville 7 for 47:00.
Third period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 16:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-11-4—21; Janesville 14-12-12—38.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hanks (38 shots, 34 saves); Janesville, Barczewski (21 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Janesville 2 for 2.
Jets 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 1 1 — 2
Janesville 2 3 0 — 5
First period — 1. Janesville, Schmidling (Polglaze, Novak), 3:36; 2. Janesville, Dodero (Polglaze, Abate), 9:23. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Janesville, Hoffmann (Munson, Bates), 6:51; 4. Janesville, Paskus (Gates, Grissom), SH, 11:18; 5. Kenai River, Tzveyn (Kaplan), PP, 12:05; 6. Janesville, Polglaze (Munson, Grissom), SH, 18:26. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Kenai River, Mezera (unassisted), 9:13. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-10-13—30; Janesville 16-19-3—38.
Goalies — Kenai River, Goor (38 shots, 33 saves); Janesville, Barczewski (30 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Janesville 0 for 2.