The Kenai River Brown Bears served notice this weekend that they will not be packing it in for the season.
The Bears earned a split, losing 2-1 on Friday and winning 1-0 on Saturday, in Minot, North Dakota, against the Minotauros.
The Minotauros, now 33-15-6, have 72 points, good for eighth in the league. Minot had something to play for this weekend, too, because they trail the Austin (Minnesota) Bruins for home ice throughout the North American Hockey League Central Division playoffs by seven points, with two games in hand.
The Bears improve to 15-39-2 and snap a five-game skid. They were eliminated from the playoff chase before they hit the ice this weekend.
“I’m absolutely happy and proud of the guys’ effort this weekend,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “We played good, solid, team hockey all weekend — our best one, arguably, going back to the weekend we swept the (Minnesota) Magicians way back in November.”
The Bears, who have given up the second-most goals in the league at 226, recorded their first shutout of the season Saturday.
Alec Derks stopped all 37 shots he saw for the Bears, while Tanner Holmes made 38 saves for the Minotauros.
“I couldn’t be happier for Alec,” Beauparlant said. “He’s been through some tough times this year, at times he’s been shelled, but him and Evan (Hauser) have been playing extremely well.
“It’s a credit to the whole club figuring out how to play solid defensive hockey.”
The Bears have given up 13 goals in their last six games after giving up 29 goals in the six games before that.
In the tight games the Bears have played lately, a bad or unlucky bounce has often cost them late in the contest.
Saturday they finally got that bounce.
At 6 minutes, 34 seconds, into the third period of a scoreless game, Joey Kaszupski earned a breakaway, short-handed chance.
Beauparlant said Kaszupski flubbed the shot, but it floated over Holmes’ glove for the game-winner.
“We haven’t gotten any bounces, but the guys keep believing and keep working and that shows a lot of character,” Beauparlant said. “It would have been easy to lie down with six games left and kind of pack it in.
“They’ve had the right mindset in both weeks of practice in North Dakota.”
Maurin Bouvet iced the win with 1:15 left when he scored an empty-net, power-play goal.
“I just thought all 20 guys pulled the rope in the same direction,” Beauparlant said. “It was playoff atmosphere-type hockey, and we found a way to grind it out and collect points.”
Affiliate player Gunnar Goodmanson made his debut at forward for the Bears and Beauparlant said he did a solid job.
In the 2-1 loss Friday, the big break went against the Bears.
“I was just talking to (defenseman) Gustav Berglund and he said, ‘Coach, it’s just not our year,’” Beauparlant said. “These are the types of games we won last year and we’re not finding a way to win this year.
“The margin of error is so thin in this league.”
Just like Saturday, Beauparlant was happy with Friday’s effort.
“We’re playing for pride and the buddy next to you,” Beauparlant said. “The guys who are going to be here next year are competing for position on the team and the guys moving on are trying to find ways to get committed.
“There’s a lot to be motivated for.”
Nick Monfils scored just 17 seconds into the game for Minot, as the Bears missed a coverage in the neutral zone.
But just 45 seconds later, the Minotauros didn’t pick up Quinton Wunder in the high slot and Adam Kresl found him for a tie game.
“They scored on their first shot and we scored on our first shot,” Beauparlant said. “I don’t know the last time I’ve seen that.”
After that goaltenders Hauser (30 saves) and Atte Tolvanen of the Minotauros (30 saves) settled in.
“They controlled play in the first, we controlled play in the second, and I thought the third was pretty even,” Beauparlant said.
Chase Springman bagged the winning goal with 5:08 to play right off a faceoff.
Beauparlant said the goal went five-hole, and Hauser probably would have liked it back, but he said the defenseman got caught on the wrong side and had improper stick position.
“It was a great team effort and I thought everyone competed hard,” Beauparlant said.
Tanner DuFault, an affiliate player, got his first action with the team and Beauparlant said he teamed with Nick Klishko and Tanner Schachle to form a solid line.
The Bears have just four games left, all against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, who are fighting for home ice throughout the Midwest Division playoffs.
The first two are at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Minotauros 2, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Minot 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Minot, Monfils (Snodgrass, Davison), 0:17; 2. Kenai River, Wunder (Kresl, Rudin), 1:02. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minot 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minot 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 3. Minot, Springman (Degler), 14:52. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-15-8—31; Minot 16-11-5—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (32 shots, 30 saves); Minot, Tolvanen (31 shots, 30 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Minot 0 for 1.
Kenai River 0 0 2 —2
Minot 0 0 0 —0
First period — none. Penalties — none.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Minot 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 1. Kenai River, Kaszupski (un.), sh., 6:34; 2. Kenai River, Bouvet (Gessert), pp, en, 18:45. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Minot 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-17-11—40; Minot 9-18-10—37.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (37 shots, 37 saves); Minot, Holmes (39 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 5; Minot 0 for 3.