The Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill have to start being more wary of rookie defensemen looking for their first career North American Hockey League goal in the waning seconds of games at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Rookie defenseman Jack Nickels snuck in from the blue line and cracked a behind-the-net pass from Maurin Bouvet past Chill goalie Adam Carlson with 9.9 seconds remaining to give the Brown Bears a 3-2 victory Friday.
The win snaps a 14-game losing streak for the Bears, a stretch that had them claiming their last win on Nov. 28.
Kenai River is 12-25-2 and two points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the race for the Midwest Division’s final playoff spot. The Chill are in third in the division at 20-12-6.
“I just tried to put it on net,” Nickels said after getting his first goal in his 30th NAHL game. “I had no idea where it was going. I was just hoping it would go in.”
Go in it did — into the lower left portion of the net.
And at that, Brown Bears captain Tyler Andrews could only smile.
Last season, Andrews got the first goal of his NAHL career against Coulee Region, this time with two seconds left in a 3-2 win at the sports complex.
“Nothing beats scoring your first goal with less than 10 seconds left to beat the other team,” Andrews said.
The biggest difference between the goals was Andrews’ strike gave the Bears a seventh-straight win last season.
Nickels’ tally saved a team on a long losing streak from heading to overtime after giving up a 2-0 lead in the third period.
“We knew that if we were going to win, we were going to have to start figuring out how to play all 60 minutes, and that’s exactly what we did tonight,” Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said.
The Chill have now lost six straight, and head coach AJ Degenhardt said that losing streak is due to not playing hard for 60 minutes.
Coulee Region had a nine-game winning streak that was snapped on Jan. 2, and Degenhardt said the team has forgotten what made it successful.
“It’s been six games in a row now, and our compete level is not where it needs to be,” he said.
Degenhardt was not pleased with the second period, in which the Bears took a 2-0 lead.
The first goal came when Andrews knifed to the net and Bouvet found him with a perfect pass with 18:18 on the clock.
Then with 14:12 left in the period, Andrews slid a pass across the ice to Austin Chavez, who roofed one on Carlson’s glove side.
The Bears won the shot count 16-7 in the second, but Coulee came storming back in the third to outshoot the Bears 17-9 and 37-34 for the game.
With 13:08 to play, Bears defenseman Ben Campbell tried to clear the puck up the side, but it took a bizarre bounce to Dominik Florian in the middle of the ice for a goal.
Although the bounce was strange, the goal was no accident because, unofficially, the Chill were outshooting the Bears 8-0 in the period at that point.
“They came out really hard,” Andrews said. “We fell back and were trying to play D, but there was still 20 minutes to go.
“That’s too much time to stop playing offense.”
Then with 2:05 to play, Richard Zehnal finished off an intense rush for a tie game.
“We did see some good signs in the third period, but this league is too good to take a period off,” Degenhardt said.
The coach also said he thought his team let up a bit after tallying the equalizer.
Beauparlant said his squad kept up intensity and execution no matter the situation or score.
The coach said goalie Evan Hauser played a big role in making the third goal of the night by a Bears’ defenseman the deciding tally.
In the first period, Hauser stopped a penalty shot by Garrett Riebling.
In the second period, only a minute after the Bears went up 1-0, Hauser stoned a wide-open chance in front of the net. With 5:52 left in the second, he want post to post to deny a bid by Jack Sorensen.
“We need a goaltender to make those saves and those are the saves we haven’t been getting lately,” Beauparlant said. “We need the big save when we’ve just gone up 1-0, or even to keep the game 0-0.”
Now that the losing streak is over, the Bears are under no illusions that life will get easier when they face the Chill on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Sunday’s game is half price, at $7 for adults and $5 for kids.
“It’s nice to get the monkey off our back, but as nice as it is, we have to be ready tomorrow or we will be right back where we were,” Andrews said.
Brown Bears 3, Chill 2
Coulee Region 0 0 2 —2
Kenai River 0 2 1 —3
First period — none. Penalties — Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Andrews (Bouvet, Berglund), 1:42; 2. Kenai River, Chavez (Andrews, Klishko), 5:48. Penalties — Coulee Region 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Coulee Region, Florian (DiPietro, Lovick), 6:52; 4.Coulee Region, Matsushima (Zehnal, Lovick), 17:55; 5. Kenai River, Nickels (Bouvet, Gessert), 19:50. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Coulee Region 13-7-17—37; Kenai River 9-16-9—34.
Goalies — Coulee Region, Carlson (34 shots, 31 saves); Kenai River, Hauser (37 shots, 35 saves).
Power plays — Coulee Region 0 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 2.