The Maine Nordiques swept the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to extend Kenai River’s North American Hockey League losing streak to seven games.
The Bears drop to 22-13-2-3, good for 48 points and second place in the Midwest Division. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs lead with 59 points, while Chippewa is in third with 42 points.
Maine improves to 17-22-2-0 and is in fifth place in the East Division.
Isaiah Fox and the Maine Nordiques started slow Friday and got better and better throughout the game.
Fox scored the game-winner with 3 minutes, 11 seconds, left in the five-minute overtime period to give the Nordiques a 2-1 victory.
Despite the result, Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said Friday was a step forward for his team after two tough weekends on the road after the holiday break.
“Especially for the first half of the game, I thought we played pretty well,” Murdock said. “We did a good job generating chances and getting back to the way we’re capable of playing.”
Maine goalie Wesley Mankowski did an equally good job stopping those chances. Mankowski was picked up from the Minnesota Magicians after the Nordiques lost a goalie to the United States Hockey League.
“He’s been a calming presence back there,” Nordiques head coach Nolan Howe said.
Mankowski stopped 35 of 36, with the exception being a goal by Eagle River’s Brandon Lajoie, assisted by Peter Morgan, near the close of the first period.
Maine would equalize in the middle of the second when Ignat Belov threw a bad-angle shot at the net and it bounced off traffic and into the net.
“The effort was there, but at the end of the day, we’re not getting the bounces we were in the first half when we were winning,” Murdock said.
In the third period, Murdock said his team got a little tired and the Nordiques took advantage, outshooting the Bears 13-7 in the frame.
“Our best period was the third period,” Howe said. “We got better and better as the game went on.”
Howe gave credit to Kenai River goalie Danny Fraga, who stopped 41 of 43, for getting the Bears to overtime.
There, Fox decided things by crashing the net from the side with a defender draped on his back, executing a wraparound to end the game.
“He’s a guy that does what it takes to win hockey games, whether that’s scoring, fighting or back-checking,” Howe said, adding that Fox kept battling after getting off to a slow start in the first period.
Howe also spoke highly of the hospitality provided by the Bears.
“For us to play in Alaska is an honor,” he said. “The people here have been great and it was a fun crowd. That makes it a great experience for these young men.”
Murdock added that defensemen Connor Scahill and Anchorage’s Max Osborne played well in their first games with Kenai River.
Saturday, Maine scored all three of the games’ third-period goals in a 4-2 victory.
Noah Kane got the Nordiques on the board with 3 minutes, 44 seconds, gone in the second period, but Lajoie equalized for the Bears with 13:51 left in the second. Logan Ritchie, assisted by Anchorage’s Max Helgeson, then put the Bears ahead.
Goals by Casper Soderling and Trent Grimshaw had the Nordiques up with 6:25 left in the game, then Kevin Pitts finished things off with a goal with two seconds left.
Fraga stopped 34 for the Bears, while Avery Sturtz stopped 36 for the Nordiques.
The Bears host the New Mexico Ice Wolves on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Nordiques 2, Brown Bears 1
Maine 0 1 0 1 —2
Kenai River 1 0 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lajoie (Morgan), 18:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Maine, Belov (un.), 12:27. Penalties — Maine 2 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — Maine, Fox (Prout, Pitts), 1:49. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Maine 14-14-13-2—43; Kenai River 18-10-7-1—36.
Goalies — Maine, Mankowski (36 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Fraga (43 shots, 41 saves).
Power plays — Maine 0 for 3; Kenai River 0 for 1.
Nordiques 4, Brown Bears 2
Maine 0 1 3 —4
Kenai River 0 2 0 —2
First period — none. Penalties — none.
Second period — 1. Maine, Kane (Kent), 3:44; 2. Kenai River, Lajoie (un.), 6:09; 3. Kenai River, Ritchie (Helgeson), pp, 11:22. Penalties — Maine 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Maine, Soderling (Thibeault), 2:44; 5. Maine, Grimshaw (Pitts, Belov), 13:25; 6. Maine, Pitts (Soderling), 19:58. Penalties — Maine 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Maine 16-14-8—38; Kenai River 13-15-10—38.
Goalies — Maine, Sturtz (38 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Fraga (38 shots, 34 saves).