The Kenai River Brown Bears avoided a three-game sweep by defeating the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues 3-2 on Sunday in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Jr. Blues had defeated the Bears 3-2 on Saturday night.
“It certainly wasn’t pretty tonight,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “We had our moments where we looked good and we had moments where I thought we were a little lax. But overall, I thought the energy was much better, and that was the biggest thing we needed tonight.”
The Bears improve to 13-9-1-0 and are in third place in the Midwest Division. The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Fairbanks Ice Dogs are tied for first in the division, just one point ahead of the Bears. Springfield is 9-11-0-0 and in seventh in the eight-team division. Just 11 points separate first and last in the Midwest.
“This was a big game for us tonight,” Kenai River captain Noah Holt said. “In the last few games, we kind of got off track. Tonight we brought it to them, played our game and got physical, and that’s what we do best.”
Kenai River is now 4-6-1 on the current 15-game homestand. The homestand continues when the Anchorage Wolverines visit the sports complex Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Special teams played a big role in Sunday’s game. The Jr. Blues got both of their goals on power plays, but the Bears had a great penalty killing evening.
Springfield had nine power-play opportunities, including a five-minute major and a minute of five-on-three. One of the goals came when Kenai River goalie Bryant Marks went behind the net to retrieve the puck and a fluky bounce off the goalie set up Springfield with an open net. The other goal was on a six-on-four with just over a minute left in the game.
The Bears also were able to score short-handed.
“There were a couple untimely penalties that we took, but I like how our guys shifted their mind-set to, we’re just going to kill it off no matter what,” Shaw said.
The lone goal of the first period came when Springfield’s Cole Lonsdale took advantage of the bounce off Marks.
“Stuff like that happens,” Holt said. “The most important thing is not to let it get to your head. And that’s what he did.”
The Bears bounced back to score three unanswered goals, including two in the second period. Anchorage’s Bryce Monrean had the short-hander assisted by Holt, then Michael DeBrito, assisted by Ben Monson and Owen Hanson, had his first NAHL goal.
DeBrito played just two games for the Bears before a concussion kept him out for almost two months. This was his fourth game back. His first goal came when he went back door and put a pass off the pipe, with the puck then bouncing in off a defender’s skate.
“That’s something he’ll remember for the rest of his life,” Shaw said.
Just 1:13 into the third period, Monrean put the Bears up 3-1 after converting on a two-on-one with Garett Drotts. Shaw said Monrean, who is tied for 11th in the league with 20 points, didn’t have his best night Saturday.
“It was a great bounce-back night and rightfully deserved,” Shaw said.
The Bears took four penalties in the third period and it finally caught up with them when Lonsdale scored with the extra skater with 1:55 left.
The Jr. Blues pulled the goalie again with 1:24 left, but Marks stood firm in finishing with 36 saves. Aksel Reid had 23 for the Jr. Blues.
Saturday, Hayden Riva gave Springfield a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds into the game, but a little more than three minutes later, Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard, assisted by Ashton Christman, answered for the Bears.
Springfield’s Noah Marino put in a short-handed goal with just 25 seconds left in the first period for Springfield, then the Blues went to the third period up 3-1 on a second-period strike by Lucca Munoz.
The Bears would once again control the third period at home, with nothing to show for it. Kenai River won the shot count 17-5 in the final 20 minutes en route to a 38-28 advantage for the game.
Christman, assisted by Hunter Newhouse, scored with 9:07 left in the game, but the Bears couldn’t find the equalizer.
Carson Dorfman stopped 36 for the Jr. Blues, while Nils Wallstrom saved 25 for the Bears.
Jr. Blues 3, Brown Bears 2
Springfield 2 1 0 —3
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Springfield, Riva (Keller), 0:21; 2. Kenai River, Conradsson Kelvgaard (Christman), 3:48; 3. Springfield, Marino (Schultz), sh, 19:35. Penalties — Sprinfield 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Springfield, Munoz (Riva), 6:09. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Christman (Newhouse), 10:53. Penalties — Springfield 3 for 17:00; Kenai River 2 for 15:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 10-13-5—28; Kenai River 15-6-17—38.
Goalies — Springfield, Dorfman (38 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Wallstrom (28 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Springfield 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 5.
Brown Bears 3, Jr. Blues 2
Springfield 1 0 1 —2
Kenai River 0 2 1 —3
First period — 1. Springfield, Lonsdale (Callahan, Borgula), pp, 15:53. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 4 for 29:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Monrean (Holt), sh, 12:39; 3. Kenai River, DeBrito (Monson, Hanson), 15:56. Penalties — Springfield 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 4. Kenai River, Monrean (Drotts), 1:13; 5. Springfield, Lonsdale (Callahan, Gadowsky), pp, 18:05. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 16-8-14—38; Kenai River 8-12-6—26.
Goalies — Springfield, Reid (26 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Marks (38 shots, 36 saves).