Gramm McCormack of the Kenai River Brown Bears earns a penalty shot after getting tripped up by Cooper Morris of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Gramm McCormack of the Kenai River Brown Bears earns a penalty shot after getting tripped up by Cooper Morris of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears, Wolverines split series

Resilience is nothing new for Cole Dubicki and the small group of Kenai River Brown Bears back for a second season with the club.

That resilience showed again Friday as the Bears picked up a 4-2 victory over the Anchorage Wolverines in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The Wolverines bounced back with a 5-3 win Saturday. Kenai River is 5-19-0-0 and in last place in the Midwest Division, while the Wolverines are 14-9-1-0 and in fourth.

The Club 49 Cup standings now have the Fairbanks Ice Dogs with 14 points, Anchorage with 10 points and Kenai River with 4 points.

Kenai River travels to Anchorage for 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday at Ben Boeke Ice Arena.

“They’re young men, right?” Taylor Shaw, interim Bears head coach, said after Friday’s game. “So they can rebound pretty quick, as long as you give them some support and energy.

“So tonight, we talked about, ‘Let’s just bring the energy and let’s play fast.’”

Last season, the pandemic continually altered the schedule and the Bears only played eight games in Soldotna. Near the end of the regular season, head coach Kevin Murdock left and was replaced by assistant Josh Dubinsky, and the Bears made it within a game of the Robertson Cup Finals.

In the offseason, Keenan Kelly was named head coach, but he stepped down and Dubinsky was named head coach. The Bears parted ways with Dubinsky in mid-November after a 3-16-0-0 start. Shaw is 2-3-0-0 since then.

“Last year we had a coaching change right before the playoffs and that was kind of tough,” Dubicki said. “Coach Shaw has been doing an amazing job keeping the energy up at practice and guys just feed off it.

“It starts with him and feeds down to us, so I think today we just did a great job of keeping the energy up.”

The Bears needed to show resilience several times in the game. The first time came when Aiden Westin scored for Anchorage just 2:02 into the game.

“We set goals before games and one of ours is not to let any goals in during the first three or last three (minutes),” Dubicki said. “We told ourselves that even if it does happen, we can’t just completely fall down. There was a lot of positivity on the bench.”

Kenai River would use special teams play to tilt the game in its favor.

With 13:09 left in the first, Kevin Marx Noren scored on the power play on assists from David Vieten and Dubicki. Dubicki, who runs the point on the power play, said the Bears adjusted the unit coming into the game.

“The last time we played Anchorage, they killed us on our own power play,” Dubicki said. “We couldn’t get anything going because they’re really aggressive.”

Shaw said special teams was an emphasis in practice all week.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time this week looking at film and trying to see how we can take advantage of the power play and penalty kill against Anchorage,” he said. “It’s just our guys executing what we’ve talked about.”

Midway through the first period, Kenai River’s Gramm McCormack drew a penalty shot while the Bears were on the penalty kill, but Anchorage goalie Raythan Robbins stopped McCormack.

In the second period, Carter Green, assisted by Hunter Newhouse and Kenai’s Parker Lockwood, put the Bears up 2-1.

With 9:16 left in the period, Green scored short-handed on assists from Ryan Finch and Caleb Huffman.

“They won the special teams battle,” Anchorage head coach Mike Aikens said. “They score that power play goal early and score that shorty by being opportunistic.”

The hard times on special teams continued for the Wolverines early in the third period, when they failed to get a shot off in 41 seconds of five-on-three play.

“We go five-on-three, and we don’t even really get the thing set up,” Aikens said. “And then that carries right over into the five-on-four that was just awful.

“Again, (Kenai River) did a good job of making it difficult.”

Anchorage did manage to cut the gap to 3-2 when Clay Allen scored from the point. Bears goaltender Tommy Aitken had a good view of the shot, but it slipped past him.

Time for the Bears to be resilient again.

“Tommy probably wants that one back,” Shaw said. “The team was right there for him and picked it back up, and away we go.

“We find a way to work and work and work down to the other end and get that empty net.”

Vieten, assisted by Caden Triggs and Jeffrey Bertrand, scored the empty-netter with 1:00 left to seal the win.

“It hasn’t been the start that we would want for sure but with the whole coaching change we’re kind of trying to shift the culture,” Dubicki said. “Even if we do give up a soft one, we don’t let that take us down. We just keep going — wave after wave.”

Aitken had 20 saves for the Bears, while Robbins stopped 35 for the Wolverines.

“I thought there were times we were good enough to win, and there were other times we just didn’t execute well enough,” Aikens said.

Saturday, the teams were tied at 1 after the first period as Anchorage’s Clay Allen and McCormack, on assists from Dubicki and Bryce Monrean, scored.

The Wolverines took control of the game in the second period when Danny Reis and Cameron Morris scored for a 3-1 lead.

Dubicki cut the gap to 3-2 in the third period with a short-handed goal assisted by McCormack, but Collin Pederson pushed the lead to 4-2 with a goal at the 10:03 mark.

Kenai River tried to come back late, again using special teams. Caden Triggs scored on the power play on assists from Dubicki and McCormack with 1:50 to play. Pederson scored on an empty net with three seconds left to seal the win.

Shane Soderwall stopped 37 for the Wolverines, while Aitken had 29 saves for the Bears.

Friday

Brown Bears 4, Wolverines 2

Anchorage 1 0 1 —2

Kenai River 1 2 1 —4

First period — 1. Anchorage, Westin (Ca. Morris, Sigurdson), 2:02; 2. Kenai River, Marx Noren (Vieten, Dubicki), pp, 6:51. Penalties — Anchorage 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Second period — 3. Kenai River, Green (Newhouse, Lockwood), 4:42; 4. Kenai River, Green (Finch, Huffman), sh, 10:44. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Third period — 5. Anchorage, Allen (Albers), 10:35; 6. Kenai River, Vieten (Triggs, Bertrand), en, 19:00. Penalties — Anchorage 4 for 19:00; Kenai River 5 for 21:00.

Shots on goal — Anchorage 5-5-12—22; Kenai River 12-13-14—39.

Goalies — Anchorage, Robbins (39 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Aitken (22 shots, 20 saves).

Carter Green of the Kenai River Brown Bears tries to get around Danny Reis of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Carter Green of the Kenai River Brown Bears tries to get around Danny Reis of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

A shot by Kevin Marx Noren of the Kenai River Brown Bears slips past Anchorage Wolverines goalie Raythan Robbins on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

A shot by Kevin Marx Noren of the Kenai River Brown Bears slips past Anchorage Wolverines goalie Raythan Robbins on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nick Stevens of the Kenai River Brown Bears tries to squeeze by the check of Bohdan Panasenko of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nick Stevens of the Kenai River Brown Bears tries to squeeze by the check of Bohdan Panasenko of the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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