After a prolonged road trip that finally brought the Kenai River Brown Bears home for the first time since Sept. 12, hopes of snapping a growing winless streak were quickly extinguished Friday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Brown Bears dropped a 6-1 North American Hockey League contest to the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks, a game that plagued Kenai River with penalty kill issues.
It took only 4 minutes, 12 seconds, for the Tomahawks to strike on the first power-play opportunity, which began after an elbowing penalty by defenseman Thomas Keane.
A missed assignment allowed Johnstown forward Andrew Romano to find open space, which gave him plenty of time to receive the puck from teammate Filips Buncis and slot the puck in to open the scoring 44 seconds into the power play.
“I’m just there as the stretch guy, and I was open and they hit me,” Romano said. “Luckily I got behind the (defense) and put it in.”
The loss was the 10th straight for Kenai River and dropped the struggling Bears to 1-12-0 this season, last in the NAHL Midwest division.
Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said he was particularly miffed with the first goal of the night.
“Our defense made a terrible decision to give up the middle of the ice, and next thing we know it’s 1-0,” Beauparlant said. “I thought we were playing pretty well up until that point.”
It was the first of three power-play advantages that Johnstown scored on the night. The Tomahawks scored on three of nine on power plays, close to equal to Kenai River’s 68 percent penalty kill rate that ranks them last in the league among 22 teams.
Beauparlant added that Kenai River could also help itself by staying out of trouble in the first place. The Bears ultimately served 13 penalties for 45 minutes, including a pair of 10-minute misconduct penalties on Jeff Fasegha and Oleg Khalemin in the third period.
“When teams are giving eight, nine or ten chances on the power play, you’re going to get scored on eventually,” Beauparlant said. “It’s difficult to overcome, because it seems like the ice is always tilted in the other direction.”
Romano added that the slew of penalties and aggressive play in the third period was business as usual.
“It was getting a little rough out there, but that’s hockey for you,” Romano said. “We’re not going to back off and they’re not going to back off. It’s just part of the game.”
Only 28 seconds ticked off the board in the second frame before Johnstown found the back of the Kenai River net again. Tomahawks forward Brendan Jaquay played the puck from behind the goal and slipped it in front into the clutches of Drew Doyon, who scored from close range for a 2-0 lead.
Johnstown coach Mike Letizia was encouraged by the improvement the Tomahawks showed in the second period after what he called a sloppy first period.
“We had a long travel day yesterday, so maybe that had something to do with it,” Letizia said. “But we talked after the first period about taking care of the puck and being sharper, and we caught some breaks and the pucks found their way in for us.”
While the Johnstown offense was firing away in the second period, Tomahawks goalie Nick DeSimone stood strong in the goal, stopping 35 of 36 shots overall.
“Nick did OK,” Letizia said. “He gave us chances and stopped the pucks when he needed to. … For the most part, he was square, made the saves he had to, and that’s what you want to see.”
Johnstown went up 3-0 on another close-range shot by Luke Lynch with 13:39 to play in the second period, then scored again on a short-handed attempt midway through the frame when Bears goalie Brian Baker was caught off guard by the puck trajectory.
Down a man, Johnstown defenseman Steven Quagliata cleared the puck out of its own zone and off the glass, which then made its way by Baker, who appeared to be out of position on the right side goal post. The puck scored with 54 seconds left on the Kenai River power play.
“The puck was dumped down and hit something on the glass, and our goalie was going into the corner to play the puck,” Beauparlant explained. “That’s a fluke goal, and it’s kind of how the year’s gone so far.”
The goal was enough to convince Beauparlant to pull Baker in favor of Nicholas Nast. Baker ended with 31 saves on 35 shots, and Nast finished up with eight saves on 10 shots.
Justin Bofshever notched the Brown Bears only goal of the night with 8:24 left in the second period. Kelly O’Brien then added a fifth goal for Johnstown with just 13 seconds left.
After successfully killing off a 5-on-3 power play in the third period by Johnstown, the Brown Bears fell victim again on another penalty kill. Johnstown notched its third power-play goal 22 seconds after the Khalemin penalty, as efficient passing led to an open shot by Romano from the near left faceoff circle.
“It was a good screen by our guys, and I was able to slide it low and it went in,” Romano said.
Tomahawks 6, Brown Bears 1
Johnstown 1 4 1 —6
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
1st Period — 1. Johnstown, Romano (Buncis), pp, 4:12. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Johnstown 1 for 2:00.
2nd Period — 2. Johnstown, Doyon (Jaquay), :28; 3. Johnstown, Lynch (Horn, Quagliata), 6:21; 4. Johnstown, Quagliata (Romano), sh, 10:39; 5. Kenai River, Bofshever (Goodmanson, McArthur), 11:36; 6. Johnstown, O’Brien (Suffredini, Jaquay), pp, 19:47. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Johnstown 5 for 10:00.
3rd Period — 7. Johnstown, Romano (Hudson, Galambos), pp, 13:25. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 31:00; Johnstown 6 for 12:00.
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 8; Johnstown 3 for 9.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-12-13—36; Johnstown 18-18-9—45.