The Kenai River Brown Bears picked up a Division I commitment Thursday and North American Hockey League victories Friday and Saturday.
Zach Krajnik, 20, of Eagle River announced Thursday on Twitter that he had committed to the University of Alaska Anchorage, then had a goal and two assists as the Bears notched a 5-3 victory over the host Minnesota Magicians on Friday. Kenai River completed the sweep by topping the Magicians 4-2 on Saturday.
The Bears stay on the road to play the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday and Saturday.
Krajnik is the second player on the Bears roster with a Division I commitment, and the second to decide on UAA. Wasilla’s Porter Schachle committed to the Seawolves right before the start of the season.
“He definitely had some interest from some other schools, but at the end of the day it was similar to Porter,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said. “There’s an appeal to being close to home, and the opportunity was afforded to him to do that. He has a chance to step into a big role as a freshman.”
Krajnik is in his third year with the Bears. In 2017-18 season, he had seven goals and 19 assists in 45 games, then last season he had 17 goals and 33 assists in 59 games.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward had some interest from the Omaha (Nebraska) Lancers of the Tier I United States Hockey League, but he decided to play with the Brown Bears of the Tier II NAHL.
“The appeal of coming back and playing with his buddies one last year, and helping us do something special this season, and UAA standing by their offer no matter where he played,” Murdock said.
During the offseason, seven of the 10 Western Collegiate Hockey Association members announced they were exploring creating a new league. That plan does not include UAA, the University of Alaska Fairbanks or Alabama Huntsville.
In addition, budget cuts are being discussed for the University of Alaska system. But Schachle and Krajnik saw opportunity there.
“It gives them an opportunity to stay close to home and play early on in their college career,” Murdock said. “They get to try and help UAA get back to a higher spot in the standings, and be some of the guys that get them turned in the right direction.
“The new staff is making a commitment to bringing in Alaska players.”
Murdock said Krajnik has the potential to make that commitment pay off.
“With his speed and skill set, he’s built to play on a team like that and be a potential top-six guy sooner rather than later,” Murdock said.
Krajnik now has a goal and five assists in five games after his big night Friday. The Bears are now 4-0-1-1 and in first place in the Midwest Division, while Minnesota falls to 1-3-2-0.
Michael Spinner, assisted by Krajnik, got the Bears started with a power-play goal in the first period, but Minnesota tied it headed into the second period.
Kenai River dominated the second period to take a 5-1 lead. Krajnik had the first goal, assisted by Spinner and Logan Ritchie, then assisted on a power-play goal by Spinner.
“We changed one of the power-play units and they went out and scored those two power-play goals, so that’s a bit of instant gratification,” Murdock said.
Also in the second, Laudon Poellinger scored short-handed on assists from Eagle River’s Brandon Lajoie and Robert McCollum, and Max Helgeson scored unassisted.
Minnesota had the lone goals of the third period.
“I still don’t think we’ve played a full, 60-minute game and going into the third period was our opportunity to do so,” Murdock said. “Fortunately, we were good in the first two periods, but we kind of took our foot off the gas in the third period.”
Landon Pavlisin had 24 saves for the Bears, while David Tomeo stopped 22 for the Magicians. Murdock said Pavlisin made some big saves early, which was crucial to building momentum and giving the team confidence to press forward offensively.
Saturday, the Bears scored three more power-play goals.
Konner Lundeen scored even-strength in the first on an assist from Brandon Lajoie before Theo Thrun, assisted by Poellinger and Porter Schachle, scored on the power play in the second for a 2-0 lead.
Spinner, assisted by Lajoie and Helgeson, and McCollum, assisted by Helgeson, scored in the third.
“I think this was the closest we’ve been to a full, 60-minute game,” Murdock said. “There’s always room for improvement, but I like the way the guys are playing with effort.”
Pavlisin had 38 saves, while Wes Mankowski stopped 21 for Minnesota.
“He’s a calming influence there on the back end,” Murdock said of Pavlisin.
Brown Bears 5, Magicians 3
Kenai River 1 4 0 — 5
Minnesota 1 0 2 — 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Spinner (Krajnik), pp, 4:02; 2. Minnesota, Szeremley (Pavey, Whalen), 17:31. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Krajnik (Spinner, Ritchie), 4:38; 4. Kenai River, Spinner (Krajnik), pp, 8:33; 5. Kenai River, Poellinger (Lajoie, McCollum), sh, 13:47; 6. Kenai River, Helgeson (un.), 16:08. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Minnesota, Sagissor (Doyle, Kanta), pp, 7:18; 8. Minnesota, Kryska (Doyle), 13:21.Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 4 for 16:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-10-9—27; Minnesota 9-9-9—27.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavlisin (27 shots, 24 saves); Minnesota, Tomeo (27 shots, 22 saves).
Brown Bears 4, Magicians 2
Kenai River 1 1 2 — 4
Minnesota 0 0 2 — 2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lundeen (Lajoie), 12:32. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minnesota 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Thrun (Poellinger, Schachle), pp, 8:26. Penalties — Minnesota 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Spinner (Lajoie, Helgeson), pp, 0:24; 4. Minnesota, Kanta (Sagissor), 1:23; 5. Kenai River, McCollum (Helgeson), pp, 14:45; 6. Minnesota, Shogren (Reigenberger, Ziskie), pp, 18:43. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-10-6—25; Minnesota 14-12-14—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavlisin (40 shots, 38 saves); Minnesota, Mankowski (25 shots, 21 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 3 for 5, Minnesota 1 for 4.