The Kenai River Brown Bears saw their winless streak stretch to 12 games with Friday and Saturday losses to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears fell 4-1 on Friday and 4-3 in heartbreaking fashion Saturday, coming back from a three-goal deficit only to give up the game-winner with just 24 seconds left. Taylor Fernandez had the game-winner for the Jets, and hit up the Bears for a pair of goals each night.
Janesville moves to 25-14-5, seven points ahead of the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill for the final playoff spot in the Midwest Division and just one point out of third place. The Bears are 3-43-2.
Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton referred back to the adage that he has been preaching since he arrived in Alaska in mid-January — play a full game.
“We’re still trying to learn to play 60 minutes, and still trying to learn to win, and they jumped on us tonight,” Worlton said. “This team has the talent to win games, we’ve just got to learn to compete for 60 minutes.
“We kept it simple, shot the puck and put things on net, and when you do that, good things happen.”
Worlton praised the effort of goaltender Magnus Lindhe, who replaced starting goalie Nicholas Nast in the first period after Nast gave up his third goal on six shots. Lindhe went the final 51 minutes, 18 seconds, of the game and stopped 27 of 28 shots.
Fernandez, Adam Winborg and Shane Sellar all scored in the opening 8 minutes, 44 seconds, Saturday to quickly put Janesville up 3-0.
Just over two minutes into the second period, Janesville’s Jeff Alderfer was called for elbowing, and the Bears took advantage on the ensuing power play with a strike from Evan Butcher halfway through the two-minute penalty, putting Kenai River on the board.
Collin Appleton and Austin Junger both scored in the following four minutes to tie things up at 3-all. Junger managed to strike with an extra attacker on the ice after a delayed penalty was called on the Jets.
“(Junger) went to the net hard and got a good goal out of it,” Worlton said.
Even the shots on goal for each team looked like a mirror image between the first and second periods. Janesville outshot Kenai River 15-6 in the first period but the Bears came back and outshot the Jets 14-6 in the second.
However, Fernandez’s game-winner with 24 ticks remaining in the game spelled doom for the Bears.
“We didn’t get the puck deep, they got the puck, and they’re very offensive minded, so they went the other way and put the puck on net,” Worlton said. “It went off (Lindhe’s) glove and went in the net.”
Janesville also pulled its starting goalie, Blake Weyrick, who gave up three of 15 shots on net. Jack LaFontaine was credited with the win with a 14-save shutout in the final 31 minutes of play.
Friday special teams loomed large, as the Bears went 0 for 3 on the power play, allowing a short-handed goal, while Janesville went 1 for 4 with the man advantage.
Janesville coach Joe Dibble, whose squad was coming off getting swept in Fairbanks, wasn’t happy with his groups’s play early, saying his team was looking for the home run instead of playing in the structure and system.
The Bears earned a power play with 16:04 left in the first, but a bouncing puck got past a pinching Kenai River defenseman, leading to a two-on-none short-handed opportunity. Cullen Munson scored, assisted by Jack Gates and Alex Smith.
“Without that one goal, the outcome might have been a bit different,” Dibble said. “The gave us some momentum in the first period when we weren’t playing that well.”
After Friday’s game, the Bears were 1 for 42 on the power play in the last 11 contests, although Saturday Kenai River came back to go 1 for 5 on the power play and hold Janesville to 0 for 5.
“We tell our power play for us to win they need to score one goal a game,” Worlton said.
The Jets went up 2-0 in the second period when Fernandez put in a shot that had rebounded off the wall.
But the Bears cut it to 2-1 with 41 seconds left in the second when Joey Sardina, assisted by Gunnar Goodmanson and Connor Inger, got the puck down low after a faceoff and scored on goalie Jack LaFontaine.
“I thought we played really well the whole game,” Worlton said. “The first period, we played well but we didn’t shoot the puck.
“The second period we shot the puck and had some success.”
Kenai River outshot Janesville 14-6 in the second period, leading to a 28-27 advantage for the game. The Bears have outshot the opposition four times this season.
“They came in waves in the second period and Jack stood tall,” Dibble said.
The Jets bench boss said his squad did a better job managing the puck in the third period, but the Bears still had chances for the equalizer.
One of the best came when Kenai Central product Jake Eubank got loose up the wall and was denied by LaFontaine.
“Good shot, good save,” Worlton said.
With 6:57 left in the game, Michael Maloney got loose in the crease and his shot hit goalie Magnus Lindhe’s glove and bounced into the net. Fernandez would add a late power-play goal.
Worlton said Lindhe could have tried to play the puck when it slid into the Bears’ zone on the short-handed goal, and that he’d probably like the third goal back, but otherwise the coach said he was solid.
“I thought it was his best game since he’s been here,” Worlton said.
The Bears now go on the road for four games, playing Coulee Region on Friday and Saturday at 4 p.m., when continuing to Springfield, Illinois, for a pair of games with the Jr. Blues on March 11 and 12.
Jets 4, Brown Bears 3
Janesville 3 0 1 —4
Kenai River 0 3 0 —3
First period — 1. Janesville, Fernandez (Holesinsky, Sellar), 6:39; 2. Janesville, Winborg (DiPietro, Roeder), 8:28; 3. Janesville, Sellar (Fernandez), 8:44. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Dufault, Dennis), pp, 3:15; 5. Kenai River, Appleton (Dufault), 6:13; 6. Kenai River, Junger (Klishko, Eubank), ea, 7:12. Penalties — Janesville 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Janesville, Fernandez (Roye, Holesinsky), 19:36. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Janesville 15-6-13—34; Kenai River 6-14-9—29.
Goalies — Janesville, LaFontaine (14 shots, 14 saves), Weyrick (15 shots, 12 saves); Kenai River, Lindhe (28 shots, 27 saves), Nast (6 shots, 3 saves).
Power plays — Janesville 0 for 5; Kenai River 1 for 5.
Jets 4, Brown Bears 1
Janesville 1 1 2 —4
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Janesville, Munson (Gates, Smith), sh, 4:41. Penalties — Janesville 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Janesville, Fernandez (Sellar, Holesinksy), 9:07; 3. Kenai River, Sardina (Goodmanson, Inger), 19:19. Penalties — Janesville 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Janesville, Maloney (Sellar, Fernandez), 13:03; 5. Janesville, Fernandez (Holesinsky, Winborg), pp, 17:21.
Shots on goal — Janesville 9-6-12—27; Kenai River 7-14-7—28.
Goalies — Janesville, LaFontaine (28 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Lindhe (27 shots, 23 saves).