The Kenai River Brown Bears lost a pair of road games to the Aston (Pennsylvania) Rebels on Friday and Saturday to hit the holiday break with a 1-28-1 record and a franchise-high 27 straight games without a win. Aston moves to 19-10-0.
The Bears jump back in North American Hockey League action Dec. 31 on the road against the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks.
“A lot of teams and a lot of players would have folded up their tents and asked for trades because they don’t want to be a part of this,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “That hasn’t happened. This is a close group that is working hard.”
Because the squad has stuck together and is working hard, Beauparlant sees hope for the second half.
“I’m excited for the second half,” he said. “I’ve seen players get rejuvenated by going home, seeing their families, getting back a sense of urgency and understanding what the league is about.
“I’ve seen teams turn it around.”
The Bears lost 4-1 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday.
A failure to convert opportunities cost the Bears on Friday.
Meanwhile, Aston took full advantage of its opportunities when the ice was tilted in its favor, scoring three goals in the second period in 3 minutes, 25 seconds, to take control of the game.
“We’ve often talked about the problem being in our defensive zone or with our focus and a letdown, but tonight I felt we lost due to an inability to capitalize on chances,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said.
Beauparlant said Aston came out strong at home, but the Bears weathered the storm and turned the game in their favor.
Cameron Cook, assisted by Jack Gessert and Joey Sardina, gave the Bears a 1-0 lead with just a second left in the first period.
Beauparlant said the Bears took the momentum from that goal and ran with it, getting a five-on-three power play 4:26 into the second period.
The coach said the Bears did just what they were supposed to and got three Grade A chances, but couldn’t finish.
“If we could have made it 2-0 there, it could have been a different result,” Beauparlant said.
Instead, Aston used the momentum from that kill to notch goals by Dean Balsamo, Brennan Kapcheck and Frank Spellman — a former Brown Bears player — before the end of the second. Kristofers Bindulis added a goal 6:35 into the third period.
“Give them credit,” Beauparlant said. “They found ways to capitalize on our mistakes.”
The coach said Nick Nast had a great game, making 40 saves while Aston netminder Darion Hanson had 24.
Beauparlant added the line of Adam Kresl, Bayley Marshall and Collin Appleton was very good, as was Sardina. The coach added that Gessert was also missed when Aston was going on its second-period spurt. Gessert was sidelined with a broken skate.
On Saturday, the Bears again had trouble capitalizing on chances.
Balsamo gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead in the first, but Kenai River outshot Aston 16-6 in the second.
“We put some pressure on them, but their goaltending was solid,” Beauparlant said.
Trevor Micucci had 30 saves for the shutout, while Brian Baker made 32 saves for the Bears.
Jerry Miettuten and Michael Merulla scored in the third for Aston to ice the game.
“Our guys really battled hard,” Beauparlant said. “It’s hard to go in after every game and look at them knowing how hard they lay it on the line.”
The coach said defensemen Croix Evingson, Charlie Spetz and Dylan McArthur were good, as was Gessert.
Appleton and Marshall also did well on the checking line.
Beauparlant said defensemen Jeff Fasegha and Seyia Hayata are close to returning from injury. He added that forward Nick Klishko is expected to join the team when it returns home in mid-January. Klishko has been out all season with an injury.
Rebels 4, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Aston 0 3 1 —4
First period — 1. Kenai River, Cook (Gessert, Sardina), 19:59. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Aston 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Aston, Balsamo (Miettuten, Bellant), 13:35; 3. Aston, Kapcheck (Balsamo, Spellman), 15:57; 4. Aston, Spellman (Bellant, Kapcheck), 17:00. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Aston 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 5. Aston, Bindulis (Solomon, Balsamo), pp, 6:35. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Aston 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-11-5—25; Aston 10-20-14—44.
Goalies — Kenai River, Nast (44 shots, 40 saves); Aston, Hanson (25 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Aston 1 for 3.
Rebels 3, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Aston 1 0 2 —3
First period — 1. Aston, Balsamo (Bellant, Spellman), 13:11. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Aston 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Aston 4 for 16:00.
Third period — 2. Aston, Miettuten (Underwood, Balsamo), 1:45; 3. Aston, Merulla (Miettuten, Van Tuyl), pp, 11:53. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-16-7—30; Aston 14-6-15—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, Baker (35 shots, 32 saves); Aston, Micucci (30 shots, 30 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Aston 1 for 5.