The Kenai River Brown Bears’ 4-1 loss to the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex can be summed up by one series of events.
Down 2-0 in the second period in front of 827 fans, the Bears were putting steady pressure in the Bobcats’ zone and had several chances to cut the lead to one goal.
But once Bismarck cleared the zone, Cullen Willox skated through two Brown Bears defensemen and popped the puck past goalie Josh Creelman with 6:06 to play for an unassisted and backbreaking play.
“That was a spectacular goal by the Willox kid but our defense did not defend that well,” Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “We had pressure for three, four or five shifts in a row, and we had one bad mistake and it cost us.”
Willox, who had 34 points in 55 games for the Bobcats last season, made sure the Bears paid for that mistake.
“He’s a very talented guy for us,” Bismarck coach Layne Sedevie said. “He was really good last year and he’s one of the captains this year.
“You don’t always like to see the individual play but it was a nice goal.”
Beauparlant said the goal summed up an evening where the Bears played well in long stretches, but then fell victim to major mistakes. At the same time, Kenai River did not capitalize on Bismarck miscues.
“They did the right things for a lot of the game and that’s the tough part to swallow,” Beauparlant said of his squad. “That wasn’t reflected in the result.
“I don’t know that we hate to lose enough.”
The Bobcats improve to 4-5-0 and move to fourth place in the North American Hockey League Central Division, while the Bears fall to 4-7 and into last place in the Midwest Division.
With Kenai River coming off a 6-1 loss to the Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros on home ice, and Bismarck riding a three-game losing streak, both teams had heavy incentive coming into Friday’s game.
The Bobcats came out and controlled the first half of the first period, but had nothing to show for it until Evan Giesler threw the puck out front with 3:30 to play in the first and it kicked in off Creelman’s skate.
In the second period, the Bears were controlling play when a turnover in their own zone led to a 2-on-2 and a Matt Perry goal.
The Bears, who outshot the Bobcats 24-21 on the evening, continued to press their case until the Willox goal.
“We played really good in the first period and had one goal to show for it,” Sedevie said. “I thought they were better in the second period but we got all the goals.
“I don’t know how this game works sometimes.”
Beauparlant said the third goal took the wind out of the Bears’ sails. With 4:12 left in the second, Logan Rivard kept whacking at the puck on the doorstep until it went in.
“At any level, guys make a lot of money standing in front of the net and taking whacks at the puck,” Sedevie said.
Alec Derks replaced Josh Creelman in the net for the third period, but Beauparlant said it was not due to Creelman’s performance. The coach said that only one of the four goals was possibly the fault of Creelman.
Meanwhile, the Bears ruined the shutout bid of Bismarck netminder Alex Bitsakis with 5:27 to play when quick passing from Evan Butcher to Maurin Bouvet to Jack Gessert finally got the fish tossed on the ice.
“He’s been good for us all year,” Sedevie said of Bitsakis. “Early on, he kept us in it by keeping them from scoring on some grade A chances.”
The Bears and Bobcats play tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex.
Bobcats 4, Brown Bears 1
Bismarck 1 3 0 —4
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — 1. Bismarck, Giesler (un.), 16:30. Penalties — Bismarck 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Bismarck, Perry (Rivard), 7:54; 3. Bismarck, Willox (un.), 13:54; 4. Bismarck, Rivard (Leininger, Perry), 15:48. Penalties — none.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Gessert (Bouvet, Butcher), 14:33. Penalties — Bismarck 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Bismarck 10-4-7—21; Kenai River 11-6-7—24.
Goalies — Bismarck, Bitsakis (24 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Creelman (14 shots, 10 saves), Derks (7 shots, 7 saves).
Power plays — Bismarck 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 2.