The roller coaster continues for the Kenai River Brown Bears.
The Brown Bears lost 6-2 Friday night to the Minnesota Wilderness at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in front of 972 fans.
Through Friday, the current homestand has seen the Bears win 2-1, lose 6-1, lose 4-1, win 5-2 and lose 6-2.
“We need to find consistency,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “That’s our Achilles’ heel right now.”
The head coach said the Bears are inconsistent in an inconsistent way, with either the forwards, defensemen or goalies taking turns in leading to losses.
Friday, the coach said the goaltending was not where it needed to be, with the Wilderness taking a 3-0 lead just 11 minutes, 54 seconds, into the game. Josh Creelman was pulled from the net at that point for Alec Derks.
The Wilderness scored on the first shift, with Niklas Lehtimaki notching an unassisted tally to get rolling on a four-point night just 31 seconds into the game.
This came after Kenai River had a good scoring opportunity just seconds into the game.
“We had a chance to go up 1-0 and 20 or 15 seconds later they score,” Beauparlant said. “I’m sure it’s a goal Josh would like to have back.”
Wilderness head coach Corey Millen is no stranger to playing in Soldotna, having coached the since-departed Alaska Avalanche of the NAHL. So Millen, who said he was happy to get in a little fishing in his return to Alaska, knew that quick goal was big.
“These are tough buildings to play in — both Fairbanks and Kenai,” Millen said. “They always have good teams.”
Michael Covach scored with 10:49 left in the first, then a power-play goal by Billy Exell at the 8:06 mark made it 3-0.
“On the power play, he wasn’t aggressive and was too deep in the net,” Beauparlant said of Creelman. “He needed to be better than he was.”
Down three goals, the Bears faced a near impossible task against a team that had given up more than three goals just twice this season.
Jack Gessert, on assists from Adam Kresl and Gustav Berglund, cut the gap to 4-1 with a power-play goal with 1:54 left in the first.
But Minnesota’s Brett Heikkila had the lone goal of the second period to suck most of the drama out of the affair.
The second period was interesting for other reasons, with the scoreboard going completely blank at the 15:13 mark and three fights breaking out at the end of the period.
The ruckus started with Gessert and Aaron Miller in the corner. As the players were being cleared away, Matt Rudin and Austin Chavez of the Bears and Alex Toscano and Tyler Hart of the Wilderness began to exchange haymakers.
The four involved in second fights are expected to face one-game suspensions.
“I didn’t mind what happened,” Beauparlant said. “Emotions were running high. I’ll leave it at that.”
Tyler Cline and Lehtimaki ran the score to 6-1 in the third before Joseph Kaszupski, on assists from Alex Jackstadt and Berglund, scored for the Bears.
Kresl, Kaszupski and Jackstadt all got on the scoresheet in their first game with the Bears this season. Beauparlant also said Gessert had a good game, and Colton Fletcher was solid in his Bears debut.
“We made all of these changes and a lot of people think magic is going to happen,” the coach said. “It’s going to take some time.”
But Friday, Beauparlant said the Bears didn’t execute and battle for the puck well enough to win.
“One of the guys just said it in the room, we need to want the puck more,” Beauparlant said. “We weren’t winning a lot of the 50-50 battles tonight.”
Brock Kautz had 24 saves for Minnesota, while Derks had 17 saves on 20 shots for the Bears.
Wilderness 6, Brown Bears 2
Minnesota 3 1 2 —6
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Minnesota, Lehtimaki (un.), 0:31; 2. Minnesota, Covach (Litchke, Miller), 9:11; 3. Minnesota, Exell (Heikkila, Chukarov), pp, 11:54; 4. Kenai River, Gessert (Kresl, Berglund), pp, 18:06. Penalties — Minnesota 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Second period — 5. Minnesota, Heikkila (Lehtimaki, Grahl), 4:07. Penalties — Minnesota 9 for 59:00; Kenai River 7 for 47:00.
Third period — 6. Minnesota, Cline (Lehtimaki, Forbort), 0:38; 7. Minnesota, Lehtimaki (Hall, Weiss), 2:58; 8. Kenai River, Kaszupski (Jackstadt, Berglund), 6:56. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 3 for 16:00.
Shots on goal — Minnesota 7-10-10—27; Kenai River 7-9-10—26.
Goalies — Minnesota, Kautz (26 shots, 24 saves); Kenai River, Creelman (7 shots, 4 saves), Derks (20 shots, 17 saves).