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Wilderness sweep weekend from Bears

The host Wisconsin Wilderness swept the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play.

The Brown Bears lost 3-0 on Friday and 3-2 in overtime on Saturday. Kenai River has now lost 15 straight. Two of those games have been overtime losses.

The Bears are 12-27-4-0, good for 28 points and last place in the Midwest Division. The Wilderness are 24-16-2-2, good for 52 points and third place.

The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in seventh place with 32 points, while the Anchorage Wolverines hold the final playoff spot with 50 points. The Wisconsin Windigo lead the division with 63 points.

Friday, the Bears trailed 1-0 until allowing a pair of goals inside the final nine minutes.

“We’re still in games, right?,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “If the group has given up, we’d be getting blown out.

“We’re still putting ourselves in chances to be in games late, late into games. We’ve just got to find a way to finish.”

The Wilderness took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a short-handed goal by Daniel Astapovich.

With 8:58 left in the third period, Nick Blood scored for a 2-0 game, then Joe Cesario scored 55 seconds later.

“Two bad turnovers in our own end cost us,” Shaw said. “That kind of put it out of reach. We’ve been having a hard time scoring.”

Nick Erickson had a 25-save shutout for the Wilderness, while Conor Sullivan made 33 saves for the Bears. Shaw said Sullivan played well.

The Bears also were in Saturday’s game. Blood gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead after the first period on a power-play goal.

With 11:34 left in the game, Roope Tuomioksa tied it for Kenai River on assists from Samuel Sisik and Dylan Conteras.

Then with 4:56 to play, Contreras put the Bears out front with help from Brady Engelkes and Sisik.

However, Nate Murray tied it just nine seconds later for the Wilderness.

“I thought we did a lot of little things pretty good tonight,” Shaw said. “Second period was a little sloppy, but then we were all over them again in the third period.

“I thought especially after we scored our first goal, we were really all over them to tie it.”

Shaw said the goal by Murray is one that goalie Conor Sullivan probably wants back.

“Regardless, we were still 2-2 and going to overtime,” Shaw said. “Obviously, we gave a penalty and they capitalized.”

With 1:56 left, Murray notched the overtime game-winner on the power play.

Sullivan had 34 saves, while Erickson stopped 30.

The Brown Bears now return to Alaska, hosting the Wolverines at the sports complex at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Shaw said it will be nice to see the community again.

“Everybody’s tired of losing and we’re tired of talking about it,” he said.

With the Bears falling out of the race for the playoffs, the team recently dealt several veterans to give those vets a shot at the playoffs, while at the same time getting players with two more seasons of junior eligibility after this season.

Nick Stevens and Marko Giourof were dealt to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets for forward Engelkes and forward Sisik. The Jets are in second place with 55 points.

Both Engelkes and Sisik were on the scoresheet on Saturday.

“I thought they both had nice games,” Shaw said. “We’re excited to see what they can do here.”

Defenseman Joe Manning was sent to the Wilderness for defenseman Riley Mullens.

“We were able to make something happen where we can pick up some younger pieces to build,” Shaw said.

Stevens and Kotaro Tsutsumi did represent the Bears at the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, on Monday and Tuesday.

“They both played really well,” Shaw said. “It was fun to watch. So hopefully one of them or both of them can get something done Division I-wise. If not, they had a great outing, and I know they had a great time.”

Shaw said it was tough to see Stevens go. Stevens was brought up to the Bears in 2021-22 and played 46 games, then played 54 last season and 39 this season as the captain.

Shaw coached 41 games with the Bears in 2021-22 as the interim coach, then was made head coach following that season.

“He was the first kid I brought up when everything happened three years ago,” Shaw said. “He did everything we asked him to and more. Awesome kid to be around. Big personality.

“Both on and off the ice, he’s done a lot for the community as well, so we’re certainly going to miss him. We do this for him to try and get an opportunity to play an extra month. We’re hoping he has success. We’re rooting for him as long as we’re not playing him.”

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