The Kenai River Brown Bears earned a split with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets, losing 1-0 on Friday before coming back for a 4-1 victory on Saturday in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Despite the split, Kenai River’s hopes of making the playoffs continue to grow dimmer. The Bears moved to 19-27-3-2 and are 18 points behind the Jets (27-19-2-3) in the race for the final playoff spot in the Midwest Division. Both the Jets and Bears have just 10 games left though, with a win counting for two points, an overtime or shootout loss counting for one and a loss counting for nothing.
Friday, Jets head coach Corey Leivermann said Janesville goalie Cole Brady, 18, will probably be selected in the NHL Draft on June 21 and 22 in Vancouver.
You’ll get no argument from Brown Bears fans.
The 6-foot-5, 165-pound netminder defeated the Bears on sports complex ice for the third time in three tries this season. Friday, Janesville won 1-0 to follow a 2-1 victory on Oct. 12 and a 2-1 shootout victory on Oct. 13.
Brady, who has committed to Division I Arizona State, stopped all 41 shots he saw Friday for his sixth shutout of the season, meaning he has stopped 116 of the 118 pucks he’s faced at the sports complex this season. That computes to a save percentage of .983.
“He has a Division I commitment but his ultimate goal is to play in the NHL,” Leivermann said of Brady, ranked No. 10 among North American goalies on NHL Central Scouting’s Mid-Term Rankings. “He showed he’s NHL caliber tonight. He was calm and cool.”
The Bears were shut out on home ice for the fourth time this season and have the second fewest goals in the league, but interim head coach Dan Bogdan said the shutout was more about Brady than offensive struggles.
Kenai River outshot Janesville 41-40.
“Looking at chances, we definitely out-chanced them,” Bogdan said. “We had a lot of Grade A opportunities but he saw 41 shots and pitched a shutout.”
Brady’s work managed to overshadow Kenai River goalie Gavin Enright, committed to Division I Bemidji State. Enright had 39 saves despite taking a puck to the collarbone with 6:47 left in the second period. The shot left him cringing in pain.
“It was a good game, a playoff-caliber game,” Leivermann said. “You had two very good goalies show up. It was a fast-paced, up-and-down game.”
Making the loss sting worse for the Bears was the way the lone goal of the game happened. Just 57 seconds into the game, Andrew Hicks threw a shot on net from the point. It bounced off a Brown Bears player and in.
“Sometimes those are the goals you need to win a game like this,” Leivermann said. “It takes fortunate bounces and we got one early in the game.”
Bogdan liked the way his team responded to the bad luck.
“The guys rebounded well and played three full periods,” he said.
With 3:29 left in the game, the Bears earned a power play and got three solid shots off. With 1:46 left — and 17 seconds remaining on the power play — Enright was pulled and the Bears put still more pressure on the unflappable Brady.
Saturday, Brady did not play but Enright kept right on rolling, making 37 saves in the victory. Sam Metcalf topped 31 on 33 shots, with the Bears getting two empty-netters late.
Cody Moline got the Bears on the board with 3:07 left in the first, scoring short-handed on assists from Justin Daly and Markuss Komuls.
Nicholas Nardella came back to tie it in the second for Janesville.
With 5:53 left in the game, Andy Walker put the Bears ahead for good on assists from Zach Krajnik and Vincent Weis. Walker and Scahill added the empty-netters late.
Kenai River continues the homestand with a three-game series against the Minnesota Magicians — 7 p.m. on Thursday and 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Jets 1, Brown Bears 0
Janesville 1 0 0 — 1
Kenai River 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. Janesville, Hicks (Nardella, Olson), 0:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Janesville 14-13-13—40; Kenai River 15-10-16—41.
Goalies — Janesville, Brady (41 shots, 41 saves); Kenai River, Enright (40 shots, 39 saves).
Power plays — Janesville 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 3.
Brown Bears 4, Jets 1
Janesville 0 1 0 — 1
Kenai River 1 0 3 — 4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Moline (Daly, Komuls), sh, 16:53. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Janesville, Nardella (un.), 12:44. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Walker (Krajnik, Weis) 14:07; 4. Kenai River, Walker (un.), en, 19:02; 5. Kenai River, Scahill (un.), en, 19:34. Penalties — Janesville 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Janesville 12-9-17—38; Kenai River 14-11-10—35.
Goalies — Janesville, Metcalf (33 shots, 31 saves); Kenai River, Enright (38 shots, 37 saves).