With the team having announced inactive status at the end of this season, the players and coaching staff of the Kenai River Brown Bears have a lot weighing on their minds.
Friday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, that weight collapsed in a 10-1 loss to the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill.
“It was just a bad game,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “They have a lot hanging over their heads. They don’t know where they’re playing next year.
“It’s tough on all of us. Three weeks and I’m out of a job and looking for work. Tonight, it was too much to bear.”
The losing streak continued Saturday night with a 6-2 loss. The Bears led 2-1 midway through the second period before allowing five straight goals to the Chill.
Worlton voiced his frustration with the officials by pointing out several questionable calls on the ice.
“(The Chill) shot the puck out of our zone, and the refs called it icing.” Worlton said Saturday. “You can’t overcome things like that. It’s embarrassing. It’s a joke.
“There’s only so much you can overcome. You gotta beat five guys, plus three more.”
Coulee Region converted 2 of 4 power-play opportunities, while Kenai River finished 0 for 3.
That said, Worlton said the Bears are not about to give up on the season. He said he gave his players 30 minutes to get out of the locker room and begin to forget about Friday’s game.
“We have to find a way to keep motivated and fight through it,” Worlton said on Friday.
The Chill moved to 23-23-2-0 and also inched to within a point of the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues for the final playoff spot out of the Midwest Division.
The Bears dropped their 13th straight game and fell to 10-40-2-0.
Christopher Lipe opened the scoring just 2:40 into Saturday’s game, and David Kaplan responded to a game-tying Joey Sofo goal early in the second period with a go-ahead shot 63 seconds after Sofo.
The wheels then fell off for Kenai River. Evan Butcher was called for checking from behind, putting the Bears on the penalty kill. Steven Quagliata struck on the power play just 3:05 after Kaplan’s score, tying the game at 2 apiece.
The Chill took a 3-2 lead just 55 seconds later when Caleb Schroer scored a short-hander, the third of the weekend of Coulee Region.
“Our special teams were not very good again, I don’t know what I can say,” Worlton said. “It’s frustrating beyond many levels.”
Coulee Region tacked on three more goals in the third period to ice away the game, including a fourth short-handed strike of the weekend.
Brad Arvanitis earned the win in goal for the Chill with 37 saves on 39 shots, while Robbie Goor stopped 36 in net for Kenai River.
In Friday’s game, Kenai River scored first, with Evan Butcher, assisted by Sam Sterne and Jack Vincent, finding the net with 1 minutes, 46 seconds, left in the first period.
But Justin Kendall and Joey Sofo would score before the first period was out for a 2-1 lead. Sofo and Tyler Trapp then scored in the second for a 4-1 advantage.
Worlton said he was happy about the way his team started out the game and added he was not happy Coulee Region had been on the power play four times before the Bears got on the power play with 3:19 gone in the final period.
But that Kenai River power play proved disastrous, with Isaac Theisen and Kendall both scoring short-handed to make it 6-1.
“Anytime you give up a short-handed goal, it’s demoralizing,” Coulee Region head coach Ryan Egan said. “When you give up two in the first 30 seconds, mentally, that’s tough on you.”
The Chill tacked on goals from Bailey Martin, Caleb Schroer, Kevin Dineen and Theisen to finish the scoring.
The Chill won the shot count 44-33, and Egan was happy that Arvanitis stood up to all those shots with just one goal.
“Our goaltending has been pretty consistent lately,” Egan said. “We’ve also been concentrating on not giving up Grade A chances, and I thought we did a good job of keeping the shots outside tonight.”
For Kenai River, Goor had 29 saves on 36 shots and Colt Hanks had five saves on eight shots.
“We’ve just got to try to bear down and win some games here at the end,” Worlton added.
Chill 6, Brown Bears 2
Coulee Region 0 3 3 — 6
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lipe (Vincent), 2:40. Penalties — none.
Second period — 2. Coulee Region, Sofo (Schmidt-Svejstrup, Decker), 5:46; 3. Kenai River, Kaplan (Radetic), 6:49; 4. Coulee Region, Quagliata (Schmidt-Svejstrup, Dineen), PP, 9:54; 5. Coulee Region, Schroer (Plunkett, Theisen), SH, 10:49. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 14:00; Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Coulee Region, Theisen (Schroer), SH, 1:53; 7. Coulee Region, Martin (Duma), 3:33; 8. Coulee Region, Kendall (Schroer, Theisen), PP, 17:45. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Coulee Region 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Coulee Region 15-17-10—42; Kenai River 9-16-14—39.
Goalies — Coulee Region, Arvanitis (39 shots, 37 saves); Kenai River, Goor (42 shots, 36 saves).
Power plays — Coulee Region 2 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 3.
Chill 10, Brown Bears 1
Coulee Region 2 2 6 — 10
Kenai River 1 0 0 — 1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Butcher (Sterne, Vincent), 18:14; 2. Coulee Region, Kendall (Dineen, Decker), 18:59; 3. Coulee Region, Sofo (Schroer, Quagliata), 19:53. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Coulee Region, Sofo (Trapp, Doran), 8:45; 5. Coulee Region, Trapp (Decker, Schroer), 17:10. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Coulee Region, Theisen (Schroer, Carlson), SH, 3:28; 7. Coulee Region, Kendall (Carlson, Trapp), SH, 3:45; 8. Coulee Region, Martin (Duma, List), 9:35; 9. Coulee Region, Schroer (Sofo, Trapp), 13:09; 10. Coulee Region, Dineen (Quagliata, Martin), 14:42; 11. Coulee Region, Theisen (Dineen, Quagliata), 17:33. Penalties — Coulee Region 4 for 31:00; Kenai River 5 for 33:00.
Shots on goal — Coulee Region 18-11-15—44; Kenai River 16-9-8—33.
Goalies — Coulee Region, Arvanitis (33 shots, 32 saves); Kenai River, Goor (36 shots, 29 saves); Hanks (8 shots, 5 saves).