The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 on Friday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The series continues Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. at the sports complex.
Friday showed how tough the eight-team Midwest Division is shaping up to be, top to bottom, as the top three teams in the standings all lost at home.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets are tied for first in the division. Fairbanks lost 2-1 to the Minnesota Wilderness, while the Jets lost 4-3 to the Wisconsin Windigo. The Bears (12-8-1-0) are in third, one point behind the division leaders, and lost to the Jr. Blues, who are in last at 8-11-0-0.
“You have to come ready to play every night, that’s for sure,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw.
The Bears fell to 3-5-1 on the current 15-game homestand. Shaw said the team has started slow then tried to catch up late since getting home. That was the case again Friday, as the first two periods were scoreless and Springfield won the shot count 24-17.
“They are a very skilled team, in my opinion,” Shaw said of the Jr. Blues. “They have some nice players that really move the puck around. It felt like we came out flat.”
In the first 5:23 of the third period, Tyler Borgula and Adyn Merrick put the Jr. Blues up 2-0.
With 10:47 to play, Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard, assisted by Noah Holt and Ashton Christman, got the Bears within one. But with 4:52 to play, Borgula struck again for a 3-1 lead.
Shaw said the Bears pulled the goalie early and that worked with 2:31 left, when Hunter Newhouse, assisted by Conradsson Kelvgaard and Drake Nabozny, cut it to 3-2.
“We had the chance to make it 3-3 a couple times in the last 1:10,” Shaw said. “I like our push at the end, but we needed that urgency the rest of the hockey game.”
Aksel Reid stopped 31 for Springfield, while Bryant Marks saved 30 for the Bears.
Jr. Blues 3, Brown Bears 2
Springfield 0 0 3 —3
Kenai River 0 0 2 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 1. Springfield, Borgula (Schultz), 1:14; 2. Springfield, Merrick (Ellings), 5:23; 3. Kenai River, Conradsson Kelvgaard (Christman), 9:13; 4. Springfield, Borgula (Nikora, Lonsdale), 15:08; 5. Kenai River, Newhouse (Conradsson Kelvgaard, Nabozny), 17:29. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 12-12-9—33; Kenai River 9-8-16—33.
Goalies — Springfield, Reid (19 shots, 17 saves); Kenai River, Marks (27 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Springfield 0 for 4; Kenai River 0 for 3.