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Friday: Brown Bears win 2nd straight

The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Minnesota Wilderness 4-1 on Friday in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Kenai River has now taken seven of a possible eight points in its last four games and won two straight for the first time since sweeping a series from the Anchorage Wolverines on Dec. 1 and 2.

The Wilderness have a lot on the line right now. They are 27-22-2-2, good for 58 points and the fourth and final playoff spot out of the Midwest Division. The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel are just one point behind the Wilderness.

The Brown Bears remain in last place in the division at 16-32-4-2, good for 38 points. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in seventh at 43 points.

The Wilderness and Brown Bears play again tonight at the sports complex at 7:30 p.m.

“There’s stuff to play for, right?” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “If we can get everything back on track now, when fall comes, we can hit the ground running.

“And obviously, we can play spoiler for some of the teams we are playing.”

Shaw said, for the most part, he was happy with all 60 minutes Friday.

The Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Gavin Duckworth, assisted by Kotaro Tsutsumi, and Carter McCormick, assisted by Dylan Contreras and Tsutsumi.

Duckworth and McCormick are first-year players for the Bears. Shaw said the team is starting to get scoring from players up and down the lineup like Duckworth and McCormick and it’s making all the difference.

“Early on, if a couple of guys weren’t scoring, we weren’t scoring,” Shaw said. “When they went cold, the result was us not being able to finish.

“Right now, we’re getting depth scoring up and down. Anybody on any night right now is finding the back of the net.”

Just 33 seconds into the second period, the Bears were up 3-0 when Luke Hause continued that depth scoring, assisted by William Esterbrooks and Brady Engelkes.

After Peteris Purmalis got the Wilderness on the board, Ryan Hipsag had his first NAHL goal for a 4-1 lead with 2:47 left in the second period. Landon MacDonald and Blake Norris assisted.

The defense and goalie Conor Sullivan took it from there. Sullivan made just 20 saves in allowing the one goal.

“I thought after the first period, we tightened up pretty good,” Shaw said. “Sully made some big saves when we needed him to, to make sure they didn’t start to climb their way back.”

The Bears allowed 22 shots or less for a second straight game.

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