There was plenty of seafood on ice Friday. Just no Mudbugs.
Kenai River fans showed joy at having their team back by raining salmon on the playing surface after their squad’s first goal Friday in the home opener at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, but the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs emerged live and kicking with a 6-2 North American Hockey League victory.
Shreveport, a team named for crayfish, moves to 10-3-0-0, good for first place in the South Division and the third most points in the league. The Bears fall to 4-7-0-0 and fifth place in the Midwest Division. The same two teams drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
The Bears were playing at home for the first time since a successful fundraising effort saved the team after the completion of last season. But the Mudbugs served early notice that this would be no reunion party, outshooting the Bears 13-6 in the first period en route to taking a 2-0 lead.
Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said the first goal was unfortunate, as the puck flew through the air to Brendan VanSweden at the back door, where he batted it in with his stick. More misfortune came with 8 minutes, 8 seconds, left in the first period, when Kenai Central product Ross Hanson rung one off the crossbar.
The second goal was a power-play snipe by Roberts Baranovskis, a shot Petrich would have liked to see challenged and blocked.
The Bears then came to life in the second period.
Just 49 seconds in, defenseman Connor Scahill walked the puck to the middle of the ice and tucked the long shot under the crossbar for his first NAHL goal. Brown Bears tradition has been to toss a fish on the ice after a goal. But fans amped it up a little, littering the ice with over 10 salmon, with the cleanup leaving the penalty boxes looking like the deck of a commercial fishing skiff.
But with 12:14 left in the second, Shreveport’s Andrew Lane answered with a long laser of his own for a 3-1 lead. Mudbugs head coach Karlis Zirnis said the strike was huge because it restored the two-goal cushion.
That cushion was important because the Bears enjoyed their best stretch of the game in the second half of the second period, using that to post a 14-6 shots advantage for the frame. David Kaplan scored on a breakaway with 8:01 left, then the Bears peppered Shreveport goalie Gustavs Grigals with rubber in two power plays before the break.
“I think we had five or six Grade A’s during the power play,” Petrich said.
But when the dust cleared, the Mudbugs still led 3-2 going into the third.
“The penalty kills in the second period were big,” Zirnis said. “They hit a post, the D blocked shots and the goalie made a couple of timely saves.”
Just 1:15 into the third, Shreveport’s Kieran Durgan pounced on a loose puck for a 4-2 lead. Durgan is freshly back from the United States Hockey League and has a Division I commitment to Air Force.
Petrich said Durgan’s opportunity came from a turnover while the Bears were leaving their own zone. The coach added Kenai River had too many of those turnovers on the night.
Durgan’s goal forced the Bears to change their style of play due to the ticking clock and two-goal deficit.
“We started pushing and let them be a little looser to try and create and cheat the game a little bit,” Petrich said of his squad.
But the Mudbugs took advantage, with Jordan Fader and Jay Feiwell scoring to ice the victory.
Grigals had 25 saves for the Mudbugs, while Artur Pavliukov stopped 28 for the Bears. Both coaches agreed the game was closer than the score indicated.
In addition to the turnovers, another decisive factor was the Mudbugs putting together several stretches of lengthy offensive zone possession. Petrich said his team had plenty to learn from the deep, talented Mudbugs, and credited Zirnis, a Latvian who has coached at the Olympics and World Junior Championships, with putting together a solid plan on the Olympic-sized ice.
“There’s a few adjustments with X’s and O’s,” Zirnis said of the big ice sheet. “We had a few good practices and were able to adjust to it.”
Mudbugs 6, Brown Bears 2
Shreveport 2 1 3 — 6
Kenai River 0 2 0 — 2
First period — 1. Shreveport, VanSweden (un.), 6:09; 2. Shreveport, Baranovskis (Lane, Burnett), 17:16. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Scahill (Posner, Radetic), 0:49; 3. Shreveport, Lane (Spencer), 7:46; 4. Kenai River, Kaplan (Fedorek, Wade), 11:59. Penalties — Shreveport 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Shreveport, Durgan (Gysbers, Clement), 1:15; 7. Shreveport, Fader (Quisenberry, Burnett), 9:16; 8. Shreveport, Feiwell (Contessa, VanSweden), 14:31. Penalties — Shreveport 4 for 19:00; Kenai River 5 for 21:00.
Shots on goal — Shreveport 13-6-15—34; Kenai River 6-14-7—27.
Goalies — Shreveport, Grigals (27 shots, 25 saves); Kenai River, Pavliukov (34 shots, 28 saves).