The visiting Kenai River Brown Bears lost a pair of 4-3 games to the Minnesota Magicians on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play.
The Bears fall to 11-15-2-1 and remain in fourth place in the Midwest Division, while Minnesota increases its division-leading mark to 20-7-0-0. The Bears stay on the road to face the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday and Saturday at 4:10 p.m. AST.
Eight of Kenai River’s last 10 contests have now been decided by one goal.
“There’s just not a lot of separation in our division,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “It’s going to come down to who has the best goaltending during the stretch and who has the most timely scoring.”
Wasilla’s Porter Schachle, assisted by Markuss Komuls and Laudon Poellinger, got the Bears started with a power-play goal Saturday, but Minnesota would score three times in the first period and again early in the second for a 4-1 lead.
Petrich said his squad was playing a ninth game in 16 days and would have to scrap for 60 minutes to get the win. As it was, the coach said the Bears scrapped for 35 or 40 and the final score showed it.
But Kenai River got power-play goals from Johan Bok, assisted by Connor Scahill and Trey LeBarge, and Andy Walker, assisted by LeBarge and Scahill, to cut the gap to 4-3 heading into the third.
“We don’t have any quit in our locker room,” Petrich said. “They’re a resilient group and they battled it out. You know what? We had a lot of chances in the third period to tie it up but their goalie made some good saves.”
Ethan Haider made 40 saves for the Magicians, while Gavin Enright stopped 32 for the Bears. Enright was playing for a sixth game in 16 days.
Friday, the Bears had a two-game winning streak snapped in a back-and-forth game.
“I feel like it helps the guys prepare to play in the playoffs,” Kenai River assistant Dan Bogdan said of the close contests. “We’ve been playing games that feel like the playoffs every weekend. Our guys know how to show up every night and work hard.”
Bogdan said the only reason Friday did not have an exact playoff feel is both teams were a little sloppy, leading to multiple chances.
“They got the last chance and converted it,” Bogdan said.
Komuls scored 6 minutes, 11 seconds, into the game for the Bears, assisted by Wasilla’s Schachle and Cody Moline.
“It was good to see Markuss Komuls back on the scoresheet,” Bogdan said. “He’s always one of the best players on the ice, if not the best player, every time out there.”
After John Keranen tied it on the power play for Minnesota, Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik, assisted by Walker and Scahill, gave the Bears the lead on the power play. Krajnik leads the Bears with 22 points, coming on eight goals and 14 assists.
Bogdan said Minnesota goalie Jack Robbel had a huge save to keep it from becoming 3-1, then the Magicians struck twice in the second period to take a 3-2 lead into the third.
With 15:39 to play, Moline, assisted by Justin Daly and Schachle, tied it up. Moline was a high school star in Minnesota last season.
“That was the first goal for Moline as a Brown Bear,” Bogdan said. “He’s been working really hard for us and swimming around the net for weeks.”
Andrew Kruse potted the game-winner for Minnesota with 4:10 left.
Dennis Westergard saved 32 for the Bears, while Robbel stopped 26 for the Magicians.
“As a coaching staff and organization, we’re all staying pretty positive,” Bogdan said. “We’re happy with the effort put forth in the loss.”
The Bears have acquired Trey LeBarge and Brendan White and both played Friday.
White is from the National Collegiate Development Conference, a tuition-free Tier III league on the East Coast. He is a left-handed forward in his last year of junior eligibility and has 30 games of NAHL experience under his belt.
“He’s great off faceoffs and provides a lot of depth to our lineup,” Bogdan said.
LeBarge came to the Bears from the United States Hockey League in a trade for Jack Conroy. LeBarge has one season of junior eligibility left after this season. He is left-handed and can play forward and defense. Bogdan said LeBarge has great character and can fit into any role.
“It was an easy move to make, promoting Jack to the next level,” Bogdan said.
Petrich said LeBarge had two big assists Saturday to show what an asset he will be to the team.
Magicians 4, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 2 0 1 — 3
Minnesota 1 2 1 — 4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Komuls (Schachle, Moline), 6:11; 2. Minnesota, Keranen (Buhl, Kruse), pp, 11:32; 3. Kenai River, Krajnik (Walker, Scahill), pp, 15:03. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Minnesota, Buhl (Keranen, Stanton), 0:26; 5. Minnestoa, Pavey (Severson, Klein), 14:18. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Moline (Daly, Schachle), 4:21; 7. Minnesota, Kruse (Karenen, Lundeen), 15:50. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-8-10—29; Minnesota 12-13-11—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Westergard (36 shots, 32 saves); Minnesota, Robbel (29 shots, 26 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4:00; Minnesota 1 for 6:00.
Magicians 4, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 1 2 0 — 3
Minnesota 3 1 0 — 4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Schachle (Komuls, Poellinger), pp, 1:34; 2. Minnesota, Dahl (Buhl, Kruse), 11:35; 3. Minnesota, Kruse (Konin, Pavey), 17:51; 4. Minnesota, Buhl (Klein), 19:38. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 5. Minnesota, Lundeen (Trifone, Seitz), 1:12; 6. Kenai River, Bok (Scahill, LeBarge), pp, 11:49; 7. Kenai River, Walker (LeBarge, Scahill), 16:15. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 6 for 33:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-17-13—43; Minnesota 15-11-10—36.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (36 shots, 32 saves); Minnesota, Haider (43 shots, 40 saves).