The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel notched a 3-2 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Thursday in North American Hockey League action at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Bears and Steel are playing today at 4 p.m. AKDT and Saturday at 2 p.m. AKDT before the Bears depart for Alaska. Kenai River’s first game at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex is April 16 at 7:30 p.m. against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Five of Kenai River’s remaining 12 games are against the Steel and those games are looking to be pivotal in the battle for the playoffs.
The Minnesota Magicians lead the Midwest Division with 32 games played and 42 points, while the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Fairbanks Ice Dogs are tied for second with 40 points. The Jets have played 30 games and the Ice Dogs have played 37.
Kenai River (15-19-1-1) is in the fourth and final playoff spot out of the division with 36 games played at 32 points. Chippewa (9-18-2-2) has 22 points, but only has played 31 games.
“In terms of holding onto a playoff spot, they’re the team we have to compete with,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said. “We control our own fate. We’ve got to get it figured out.”
Lucas Wahlin continued his tear for the Brown Bears on Thursday, scoring both of the team’s goals. Wahlin now has seven goals in the team’s past five games, but the problem is the rest of the team has scored only five goals during that period.
“Wahlin has been really good lately,” Murdock said. “We changed up lines a little bit and his line has some good chemistry.”
Last year as an affiliate player for the Bears, Wahlin scored three goals in three games from his off side. So in changing the lines, Murdock has put the right-hander at left wing and it has worked wonders.
While Wahlin is finishing his chances, Murdock said missed chances are holding Kenai River back right now.
“Tonight, we had enough chances to win the game,” Murdock said. “Earlier in the season, when we generated those chances, we seemed to score. Now, we’re generating the same chances but we’re unable to hit the back of the net.”
After a scoreless first period, Chippewa went up on a power-play goal before Wahlin evened things up with 6:03 left in the second.
Chippewa grabbed a 2-1 lead before the end of the second, then went up 3-1 with 9:48 left in the game.
Wahlin scored on the power play with 6:10 left in the game, but the Bears could get no closer.
Murdock said every goal the Bears gave up was the result of a mistake. While the coach said mistakes happen, he’s telling his team that the less mistakes made, the better chance for victories.
Berk Berkeliev had 27 saves for the Steel, while Luke Pavicich stopped 27 for the Bears. Murdock said both goalies were good.
“Their goalie made some big saves,” he said.
Steel 3, Brown Bears 2
Chippewa 0 2 1 —3
Kenai River 0 1 1 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 1. Chippewa, Waltman (Brown), pp, 4:46; 2. Kenai River, Wahlin (Dodge, Dubicki), 13:57; 3. Chippewa, Janda (Waltman, Tanos), 16:36. Penalties — Chippewa 3 for 14:00; Kenai River 4 for 16:00.
Third period — 4. Chippewa, Ronayne (Hansson), 10:12; 5. Kenai River, Wahlin (Morgan, Helgeson), pp, 13:50. Penalties — Chippewa 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Chippewa 9-10-11—30; Kenai River 9-10-10—29.
Goalies — Chippewa, Berkeliev (29 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Pavicich (30 shots, 27 saves).