Bears top Pilots, snap 3-game skid

Bears top Pilots, snap 3-game skid

The Kenai River Brown Bears snapped a three-game losing streak by topping the host Topeka (Kansas) Pilots 5-2 on Saturday in North American Hockey League play.

The game left the Brown Bears tied for second in the Midwest Division standings with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets. Kenai River is 8-5-0-1 to match Janesville with 17 points, while the Minnesota Magicians lead the division with 18 points and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in fourth place with 15 points.

After Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Pilots, Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said his team was doing the right things but not getting rewarded and not getting the bounces.

That changed quickly Saturday. Just 6 seconds into the game, Markuss Komuls, assisted by Logan Ritchie, threw the puck at the Topeka net and saw it slip between the goalie’s elbow and hip for an early 1-0 lead.

“We finally got that bounce and that relieved a little pressure on the guys and they went to work from there,” Petrich said. “They did what they’ve been doing the last three games, and they got rewarded for it tonight.”

Petrich said Topeka’s top line is extremely dangerous. He said the line earned power plays that resulted in both of the Pilots’ goals. The first goal came before the end of the first period for a 1-all game.

Kenai River would score the next three goals of the game to take control.

With 9:54 left in the second period, Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik had a great zone entry play and hit Michael Spethmann for a bang-bang goal. JJ Boucher also had an assist.

The next two goals came from establishing a net-front presence that Petrich emphasized in the video session before the game. Krajnik had a power-play goal assisted by Connor Scahill and Alex Klekotka, and Spethmann scored assisted by Krajnik and Boucher.

After Topeka made it 4-2 in the third with a power-play goal, Andy Walker finished the scoring by tossing in an empty-net goal all the way from the Brown Bears’ blue line. Ritchie assisted.

“It was a great team effort,” Petrich said. “It was not a relief because we know we have a good team. It felt good to get back in the win column with Janesville and Fairbanks winning and us being able to gain a game on the Magicians.”

Petrich said goalie Gavin Enright, who had 29 saves, made the plays he had to, to get the win.

Friday, the Bears fell 3-2 for a third straight loss. During the string, which included one shootout loss, Kenai River had outshot opponents by an average of 11 shots per game.

“I’m a big guy on measuring scoring chances,” Petrich said after Friday’s game. “In eight of the last nine periods, we’ve been the better team but we haven’t capitalized on scoring chances.”

During the three-game skid, Petrich said the goaltending and defense has been good, but it hasn’t been perfect.

“We made mistakes,” Petrich said. “They weren’t catastrophic, but they scored a couple of nice goals. The guys just have to keep doing what they’re doing, and stay bought into the system, and we’ll get a reward.”

The coach said another positive sign is the players are not accepting losing.

“We’ve got guys that are playing really well, but they’re frustrated and don’t understand why they’re not scoring,” Petrich said. “That’s actually a positive sign because they want more. They want to be elite.”

Topeka scored the only goal of the first period, then went up 2-0 with 7:15 left in the second period on a power-play goal.

Defenseman Scahill, on an assist from Boucher, then scored the first of his two goals before the end of the second to cut the gap to 2-1.

Topeka had a big goal with 6:12 left in the third for a 3-1 advantage before Scahill, assisted by Komuls and Eagle River’s Sutton McDonald, scored with 1:53 left. Scahill now has four goals and five assists in 13 games after racking three goals and 11 assists in 53 games for the Bears last season.

“Connor’s a good hockey player and we’re happy about the success he’s starting to have,” Petrich said. “He’s taking that next step as a second-year guy.”

During the losing streak, three of the four goals had come from defensemen.

“The focus of our video session will be net-front presence for the forwards,” Petrich said.

Dennis Westergard made 20 saves for Kenai River, while Emil Gransoe stopped 25 for Topeka.

The Bears then stay on the road for Friday and Saturday games at 4:05 p.m. ADT against the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays.

Friday

Pilots 3, Brown Bears 2

Kenai River 0 1 1 — 2

Topeka 1 1 1 — 3

First period — 1. Topeka, Scott (Francois, Yeo), 14:54. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Topeka 3 for 6:00.

Second period — 2. Topeka, Tulik (Finner, Schultz), pp, 12:45; 3. Kenai River, Scahill (Boucher), 17:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Topeka 1 for 2:00.

Third period — 4. Topeka, Tulik (Schultz, Muschitiello), 13:48; 5. Kenai River, Scahill (Komuls, McDonald), 18:07. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-11-9—27; Topeka 9-7-7—23.

Goalies — Kenai River, Westergard (23 shots, 20 saves); Topeka, Gransoe (27 shots, 25 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Topeka 1 for 3.

Saturday

Brown Bears 5, Pilots 2

Kenai River 1 2 2 — 5

Topeka 1 0 1 — 2

First period — 1. Kenai River, Komuls (Ritchie), 0:06; 2. Topeka, Quinn (Finner, McCarthy), pp, 6:58. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 19:00; Topeka 3 for 17:00.

Second period — 3. Kenai River, Spethmann (Krajnik, Boucher), 10:06; 4. Kenai River, Krajnik (Scahill, Klekotka), pp, 18:33. Penalties — Topeka 2 for 4:00.

Third period — 5. Kenai River, Spethmann (Krajnik, Boucher), 2:57; 6. Topeka, Muschitiello (Green, Thiessen), pp, 11:18; 7. Kenai River, A. Walker (Ritchie), en, 15:03. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Topeka 2 for 4:00.

Shot on goal — Kenai River 9-15-8—32; Topeka 10-9-12—31.

Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (31 shots, 29 saves); Topeka, Metcalf (28 shots, 24 saves), Gransoe (3 shots, 3 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2, Topeka 2 for 3.

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