The Kenai River Brown Bears swept the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears won 5-4 on Saturday and 6-1 on Friday. The Bears gained a measure of revenge for getting bounced off the ice by 8-2 and 5-0 scores when the two squads met in Wisconsin in early October.
Kenai River moves to 11-5-1-2 and remains in second place in the Midwest Division, two points behind the division-leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Chippewa is in third place at 10-6-0-0, five points behind the Bears.
Kenai River now hosts the Springfield (Illinois) Blues in three games, starting Thursday at 7 p.m.
Friday, Cody Moline had two goals and Max Helgeson added three assists to lead the Bears.
“I think we just had an off weekend in Wisconsin,” said Moline, who recorded his first two-goal game in the NAHL. “We were running too high and came out slow.
“They’re a really good team and we lost our focus.”
Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock has been preaching consistency all year long. Friday was just another example of how things can swing wildly in the league.
Chippewa had an eight-game winning streak before suffering three straight blowout losses — the first two to the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings and the third Friday. Then came a fourth-straight loss Saturday.
“We’ve been humbled in the last three games,” Steel coach Carter Foguth said Friday. “It’s the same thing I talked about coming up here — you’ve got to be ready because every game is a challenge in this league.”
Foguth said his team started the game well, but when the Steel had a lapse midway though the first period, Kenai River took control of the game.
With 10:26 left in the period, Moline got his first goal on a protracted net-front scrum, with Peter Morgan and Laudon Poellinger assisting.
“That’s one area we’ve been trying to improve on, especially after the last couple of weekends, when we didn’t win the net-front battles on both ends of the ice,” Murdock said.
Just 16 seconds after Moline’s strike, the Bears were winning another net-front battle, with Trey LaBarge using a bar-down backhand and assists from Helgeson and Kyle Valiquette for a 2-0 lead.
“They’re a really skilled team,” Moline said of the Steel. “They’re one of the best teams in the league and in our division, so it was big getting an early lead.”
The Bears then dominated the second period to effectively end the game. Midway through the second, a battle in front of the net resulted in the puck popping out to leading goal scrorer Theo Thrun, and he didn’t miss the power-play chance. Helgeson and Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik assisted.
Valiquette, assisted by Helgeson and Robert McCollum, took advantage of a screen in front of the net to dump in a shot from the point for a 4-0 game with 4:24 left in the second, then Moline, assisted by Wasilla’s Porter Schachle, made it 5-0 with 2:19 left in the second.
Moline, Schachle and Morgan were playing on a line for the fifth-straight game. Morgan and Moline are both short and speedy, while the 6-foot-3 Schachle is the tallest player on the the team.
“Porter is really hard to play against,” Moline said. “He creates a lot of havoc. It’s working out really well.”
The Steel would ruin Landon Pavilisin’s shutout in the third, but Krajnik, assisted by Dylan Hadfield, would answer by breezing down the right side to score.
“A lot of things,” said Foguth, when asked what’s ailing his defense right now. “The problem is too many guys are on their own page.”
Murdock said the Steel played better than the score indicated, adding Pavlisin did a good job cleaning up any defensive miscues.
“I think he made some nice saves,” Murdock said. “We gave up a few more Grade A chances than we’d like to see.”
Saturday, Thrun scored twice in the third period to help salt away the victory.
Killian Kiecker-Olson put the Steel up 1-0 in the first, but Dylan Hadfield tied it for the Bears going into the break.
In the second period, Schachle and Helgeson put the Bears out front 3-1, but Ian Famulak cut it to 3-2 heading into the third. Connor Szmul tied it for Chippewa in the third before Thrun struck for two goals. Jacob Dirks scored with 14 seconds left for Chippewa.
Pavlisin had 26 saves for the Bears, while Trent Burnham stopped 35 for the Steel.
Brown Bears 6, Steel 1
Chippewa 0 0 1 — 1
Kenai River 2 3 1 — 6
First period — 1. Kenai River, Moline (Morgan, Poellinger), 9:34; 2. Kenai River, LaBarge (Helgeson, Valiquette), 9:50. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Thrun (Helgeson, Krajnik), pp, 10:43; 4. Kenai River, Valiquette (Helgeson, McCollum), 15:36; 5. Kenai River, Moline (Schachle), 17:41. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Chippewa, Ludwig (un.), pp, 7:55; 7. Kenai River, Krajnik (Hadfield), 14:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Chippewa 8-8-8—24; Kenai River 12-14-14—40.
Goalies — Chippewa, Burnham (40 shots, 34 saves). Kenai River, Pavlisin (24 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Chippewa 1 for 4; Kenai River 1 for 3.
Brown Bears 5, Steel 4
Chippewa 1 1 2 — 4
Kenai River 1 2 2 — 5
First period — 1. Chippewa, Kiecker-Olson (Black, Moberg), 11:41; 2. Kenai River, Hadfield (Ritchie, Krajnik), 17:14. Penalties — Chippewa 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Schachle (Morgan, Thelen), 11:35; 4. Kenai River, Helgeson (Krajnik, McCollum), pp, 13:13; 5. Chippewa, Halvorson (Black, Famulak), 14:34. Penalties — Chippewa 6 for 12:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 6. Chippewa, Szmul (Kiecker-Olson, Oyler), pp, 8:29; 7. Kenai River, Thrun (Krajnik, McCollum), pp, 15:07; 8. Kenai River, Thrun (un.), 16:40; 9. Chippewa, Dirks (Famulak), 19:46. Penalties — Chippewa 6 for 33:00; Kenai River 6 for 33:00.
Shots on goal — Chippewa 8-9-13—30; Kenai River 11-16-13—40.
Goalies — Chippewa, Burnham (40 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Pavlisin (30 shots, 26 saves).