A week after a breakthrough three-game sweep of their instate rivals, the Kenai River Brown Bears fell back into the same hole.
The Brown Bears lost 5-2 in a Friday night road contest to the Topeka (Kansas) RoadRunners, then dropped a 6-2 game Saturday. The results left the Bears at 4-18-2 in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division, maintaining their last place spot with 10 points. The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets lead the division with 40 points.
Last weekend, Kenai River rolled to three victories over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, which is a team amid a struggling losing skid.
Friday in Topeka, the RoadRunners posted three first-period goals en route to the win, and Brown Bears coach Jeff Worlton said the squad took a 180-degree swing from how they played against Fairbanks.
“As well as we played last weekend, we played that bad tonight,” Worlton said Friday. “We just didn’t compete, didn’t work hard, and it takes a lot of work to win.”
Worlton said after the success against the Ice Dogs, the Bears spent minimal time talking about it before moving on to Topeka.
“Listen, it was a great weekend but it was over, so we just tried to focus on Topeka,” he said.
Michigan native Max Harper netted a hat trick to lead the RoadRunners to the win, scoring the opening goal four minutes in and adding a second one later in the first period. Harper finished the trick with 1:44 left in the third.
Topeka led 4-0 by the early minutes of the second period, but the Bears clawed back in the frame with goals from Ryan Mezera and Jonathan Marzec.
Mezera’s goal came on a Kenai River power play after a slashing penalty sent Topeka’s Andrew Hart to the box. Once Marzec slotted in his scoring strike — which gave him a point in seven straight games — things were moving for the Bears.
“Once we woke up, we had a power play goal and started to make things happen,” Worlton said. “We thought we might be able to push and get to the third and make it a new game, but just weren’t able to get that third goal.”
Interestingly enough, the RoadRunners outshot the Bears 16-6 in the second period, while Kenai River came back to outshoot Topeka 8-4 in the final period.
“I could give you a million excuses about the travel and other stuff, but we have to compete every night to be consistent,” Worlton added. “The first period hurt us, and it goes back to being consistent. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready every night.”
Minnesota native Robbie Goor started between the pipes for Kenai River, but gave up four goals on 15 shots before being pulled early in the second period for Bailey Seagraves, who finished out the final 36:55 of the game with 16 saves on 17 shots.
“Robbie played well last weekend, but today he wasn’t as consistent, so he struggled a little bit,” Worlton said.
Saturday night, the Brown Bears felt the wrath of Will Schlagenhauf, who matched his teammate Harper’s Friday showing with a hat trick of his own. Schlagenhauf chipped in two assists to rack up five points on the night.
The Bears allowed another early strike from Topeka, this one on a RoadRunners power play. Kenai River is ranked 21st of 24 teams on the penalty kill. The Bears incurred three consecutive penalties in the opening period of play, the first two coming in the first 4:20 of the game. Schlagenhauf scored the opening goal to put Topeka ahead at the 3:58 mark.
Evan Butcher knotted things up for Kenai River with a strike of his own just over five minutes later, but in the late minutes of the period, the Bears once again found themselves on the kill, and Alex Frye made it count for the Roadrunners with a goal to put Topeka up 2-1.
“That’s tough to overcome when it comes that early,” Worlton said Saturday. “It’s disappointing when you’re rebuilding and organizing, you take two steps forward but it feels like 30 steps backward.”
Schlagenhauf scored again two minutes into the second period to put Topeka up 3-1, then completed his trifecta at the midpoint of the frame.
Sviataslau Kuchynski popped in a goal for the Bears late in the second, but the damage had been done.
Seagraves started in goal for Kenai River Saturday, making 11 saves on 13 shots, but was pulled after 32 minutes in favor of Goor, a reversal of the previous night. Goor finished the game with 13 saves on 17 shots.
Kenai River finished 0 for 7 on the power play Saturday night, while Topeka was 2 for 4. Worlton said that, as well as the general struggles of the team, can be attributed to youth and lack of experience.
“If I had a real answer, I’d probably be in the NHL by now,” he said. “We hit three or four posts, generated some quality chances, but their goaltending made good saves tonight.”
Topeka goalie Mike Rockwell stopped 28 of 30 shots by Kenai River.
RoadRunners 6, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
Topeka 2 3 1 —6
1st period — 1. Topeka, Schlagenhauf (Frye, Russell), PP, 3:58; 2. Kenai River, Butcher (Klekotka, Rock), 9:03; 3. Topeka, Frye (Schlagenhauf, Russell), PP, 16:53. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Topeka 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 4. Topeka, Schlagenhauf (Keranen), 2:02; 5. Topeka, Frantti (Zins, Makowski), 7:41; 6. Topeka, Schlagenhauf (Nelson, Rosenbaum), 10:41; 7. Kenai River, Kuchynski (Wade, Monahan), 17:22. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Topeka 3 for 6:00.
3rd period — 8. Topeka, Dickinson (Schlagenhauf, Fields), 12:35. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 16:00; Topeka 5 for 10:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-14-6—30; Topeka 15-8-7—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Seagraves (17 shots, 13 saves), Goor (13 shots, 11 saves); Topeka, Rockwell (30 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 7; Topeka 2 for 4.
RoadRunners 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 2 0 —2
Topeka 3 1 1 —5
1st period — 1. Topeka, Harper (Zins, DeRoche), 4:07; 2. Topeka, Makowski (Granowicz), 12:36; 3. Topeka, Harper (DeRoche, Bowery), 14:10. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Topeka 3 for 6:00.
2nd period — 4. Topeka, Russell (Frye, Hart), 1:30; 5. Kenai River, Mezera (Tzveyn, Thielemann), pp, 7:34; 6. Kenai River, Marzec (Butcher, Radetic), 10:08. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Topeka 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 7. Topeka, Harper (DeRoche), 18:16. Penalties — Topeka 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-6-8—24; Topeka 12-16-4—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Goor (15 shots, 11 saves), Seagraves (17 shots, 16 saves); Topeka, Snowden (24 shots, 22 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Topeka 0 for 3.