Kenai River Brown Bears forward Andy Larson tries to shake off Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Brock Devlin to get a shot off on Wolverines goalie Vaughn Makar on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Andy Larson tries to shake off Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Brock Devlin to get a shot off on Wolverines goalie Vaughn Makar on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Saturday: Wolverines top Bears for 8th straight win

Anchorage Wolverines fans showed their dedication by making the trip to Soldotna for a Saturday night game against the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Wolverines head coach Nick Walters would like to reward those fans by hosting at least the first round in the North American Hockey League playoffs.

Anchorage continued to take steps in that direction, defeating the Kenai River Brown Bears 4-2 in front of a house that was nearly packed due to loyal Brown Bears fans, a state youth hockey tournament in town, plus those who made the trip down from Anchorage.

“They always make the trip,” Walters said. “They’re dedicated.”

The Wolverines are now 30-13-2-2, tied for second in the Midwest Division with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets with 64 points. The Wisconsin Windigo lead the division with 70 points. Anchorage would have to finish in the top two to host a first-round playoff series.

“We’d love to host a first round playoff series,” Walters said. “We’ve just got to keep doing our job though.”

The Brown Bears are 13-31-4-1, good for last place and 31 points.

Anchorage also continues to rule the Club 49 Cup, with 31 points to the 11 of Kenai River and 10 of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.

Saturday, the Ice Dogs got a nice effort from Vaughn Makar in net to win their eighth straight game. Makar made 42 saves, none bigger than when he stopped Andy Larson on a breakaway with two minutes left and the Wolverines clinging to a 3-2 lead.

“A bad pinch or some sort of blown coverage, and that guy was walking right down Broadway,” Walters said. “Those are the saves you need your goalie to make to get wins in this league.

“He was huge.”

In the first period, both teams displayed unstoppable power plays.

With 16:28 left in the first period, Luke Hause carried the puck up the ice and through the heart of the Anchorage defense to beat Makar for a power-play goal and a 1-0 lead.

With 8:08 left, Anchorage answered with a power-play goal of its own, with Taisetsu Ushio scoring on assists from Bryce Monrean and Oliver Salo.

With 5:49 left, Larson, assisted by Riley Mullens, scored on the power play through traffic from the blue line.

But with 2:50 left, Ushio scored again with the man advantage, this time on assists from Salo and Monrean.

“That power-play line has been clicking,” Walters said. “We went 0 for 5 last night, but the weeks previous, they’ve been good.”

Both Walters and Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw agreed that it was big for Anchorage to come out of the first period at 2-2.

“There were some looks in the first period where it could have been 3-1 pretty quick,” Shaw said.

Said Walters of Makar: “He made some big saves to kind of keep us in it, keep it 2-2. That gave us a chance to take the lead in the second.”

With 18:23 left in the second period, Camden Shasby, assisted by Salo and Cole Christian, gave Anchorage a 3-2 lead.

Makar would make that lead stand up the rest of the way, with Fyodor Nikolayenya scoring an empty-net goal with 1:15 to play. Shasby assisted on that goal, while Monrean had his third assist of the night.

AJ Reyelts made 34 saves for the Bears. Shaw said the Bears drafted Reyelts, who is 17. The coach said Reyelts was at a camp for USA Hockey as one of the top goalies at his age group, but then needed knee surgery.

Starting in December, Reyelts worked his way back into shape by playing high school hockey in Minnesota. He made his debut for Kenai River on Saturday.

“I thought he handled the situation well,” Shaw said. “He made some big saves.

“It’s always tough — your first juniors start at 17 years old.”

The Bears travel to play the Ice Dogs on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Trent Powell, who is from Soldotna, and Kenai River Brown Bears forward Landon MacDonald battle for the puck behind Wolverines goalie Vaughn Makar on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Trent Powell, who is from Soldotna, and Kenai River Brown Bears forward Landon MacDonald battle for the puck behind Wolverines goalie Vaughn Makar on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage Wolverines forward Taisetsu Ushio knocks the puck past Kenai River Brown Bears goalie AJ Reyelts on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage Wolverines forward Taisetsu Ushio knocks the puck past Kenai River Brown Bears goalie AJ Reyelts on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Samuel Sisik makes a centering pass past Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Brock Devlin on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Samuel Sisik makes a centering pass past Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Brock Devlin on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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