Both the Kenai River Brown Bears and the Minnesota Magicians each took three points out of a tight, hotly contested North American Hockey League series Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Magicians notched a 1-0 shootout victory Friday before the Bears came back for a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday. With Saturday’s win, the Bears jump into first place in the Midwest Division with a 7-3-1-2 record. The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel are a point behind, while the Fairbanks Ice Dogs are two points behind. Minnesota, at 3-6-3-0, is in last in the division.
Saturday, the Bears got their power play going and solved Minnesota goalie Wes Mankowski just in time.
Kenai River went 0 for 4 with the extra man Friday and was 0 for 4 Saturday when Logan Ritchie scored with just 2:10 remaining in the game to tie it at 1. Wasilla’s Porter Schachle and Lajoie had the assists. Mankowski finally gave up a goal after also shutting the Bears out Friday.
Then, 2:04 into overtime, Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik came up with the game-winner on assists from Trey LaBarge and Ryan Reid.
Minnesota’s lone goal came from Blake Kryska in the second period.
Kenai River fought back to make a winner of goalie Landon Pavlisin, who shut the Magicians out Friday only to lose in the shootout. Pavlisin stopped 32, while Mankowski saved 45.
After Friday’s game, only four teams in the North American Hockey League had scored fewer goals than the Magicians this season, but the squad continued to find ways to pick up points on the road with the 1-0 shootout victory.
Oct. 11, the Magicians started their trip to Alaska by defeating the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 2-1 in a shootout that went all the way to 12 skaters on each team. After losing to the Ice Dogs 4-1 the following night, Minnesota traveled to Kenai to earn two more points without scoring a regulation goal.
“It’s good for us to steal points on the road,” Minnesota head coach A.J. Bucchino said. “I feel this team is headed in the right direction, but it’s good to get points while we’re trying to figure out how to score more goals.”
The last time Minnesota goalie Mankowski started before Friday was Sept. 28 in a 4-2 loss to the Bears in Minnesota. Friday he made 48 saves and stopped both shooters in the shootout to avenge that defeat.
“It was a fun game,” Bucchino said. “Both teams had chances and both goalies made good saves. It could have gone either way.
“I feel we possessed the puck better, but we had trouble getting the puck to the net with enough bodies there to cause problems.”
Taking the hard-luck loss for the Bears was goalie Pavlisin, who stopped all 35 shots he saw, but allowed both Marko Reifenberger and T.J. Sagissor to score in the shootout.
Bucchino said Reifenberger is the steady captain for the team, while Sagissor is the one who finally came up with the game-winner in the lengthy Fairbanks shootout.
“He played great,” Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock said Pavlisin. “He got beat by two pretty good moves.”
Although the official shot count was 48-35 in Kenai River’s favor, Murdock agreed with Bucchino that Minnesota may have had a little more offensive zone possession. Murdock said the Magicians were better transitioning from defense to offense than the Bears, and that may have led to a little more possession.
“I think once the guys got into the offensive zone, they were doing fine with possession,” Murdock said.
He said Minnesota’s defense did a great job eliminating second and third chances. That’s what it would have taken to beat Mankowski.
Kenai River did have its fair share of near goals, including Kyle Valiquette hitting the pipe in the second period, Cody Moline being denied on a breakaway with 15 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game, and Valiquette being twice denied on open chances out front with about 7 1-2 minutes to play.
The Bears also had power plays with 3:16 and 1:08 left in regulation they weren’t able to convert. Minnesota was 0 for 3 with the extra man, while the Bears were 0 for 4.
Murdock said the Bears still showed inexperience on the power play. Kenai River had two players suit up Friday who just arrived this week, forward Peter Morgan and defenseman Dylan Hadfield. Morgan, who has one more year of junior eligibility after this year, arrived in a trade. Hadfield, who also has a year left after this season, was a free agent.
The Kenai River head coach said the Bears had six defensemen available Friday, but were leaving Soldotna’s Preston Weeks, the captain, on the ice late in the game for a simple reason.
“He was playing well, so he wanted to keep him out there as much as possible,” Murdock said. “He’s in great shape.”
The Bears now travel to play the Maine Nordiques on Friday at 3 p.m. AKDT.
Magicians 1, Brown Bears 0, SO
Minnesota 0 0 0 0 1 — 1
Kenai River 0 0 0 0 0 — 0
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Minnesota 2 (Reifenberger G, Sagissor G); Kenai River 0 (Lundeen NG, Lajoie NG).
Shots on goal — Minnesota 11-13-9-2—35; Kenai River 15-15-14-4—48.
Goalies — Minnesota, Mankowski (48 shots, 48 saves); Kenai River, Pavlisin (35 shots, 35 saves).
Power plays — Minnesota 0 for 3; Kenai River 0 for 4.
Brown Bears 2, Magicians 1, OT
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 — 1
Kenai River 0 0 1 1 — 2
First period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Minnesota, Kryska (Hale, Keller), 6:26. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 2. Kenai River, Ritchie (Schachle, Lajoie), pp, 17:50. Penalties — Minnesota 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Overtime — 3. Kenai River, Krajnik (LaBarge, Reid), 2:04. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Minnesota 11-11-10-1—33; Kenai River 21-11-12-3—47.
Goalies — Minnesota, Mankowski (45 shots, 43 saves); Kenai River, Pavlisin (32 shots, 31 saves).