Gavin Duckworth of the Kenai River Brown Bears celebrates his goal Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Gavin Duckworth of the Kenai River Brown Bears celebrates his goal Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Sunday: Jets snap Bears’ winning streak at 4

The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 7-2 on Sunday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Coming into the contest, the Bears were riding a four-game winning streak and had ripped off 13 points in their last seven games.

Kenai River had not scored less than four goals during that point streak, and had touched up the Jets for a 10-5 victory on Friday and an 8-7 overtime victory Saturday. The 10 goals Friday was just the second time in franchise history the Bears reached the 10-goal mark.

Sunday’s home finale was fan appreciation day and free admission. While the sports complex was not packed, a solid, lively crowd showed up for a 5 p.m game on a weekend holiday.

“You see all the people from the community out here tonight — on a Sunday at five o’clock on a holiday,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “They care about the team and the organization.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of business, and that always doesn’t mean we are going to win. But we need to show the work and the effort and the passion and the pride in what we are. I was thankful we had a decent crowd, but I thought we let them down tonight.”

Kenai River, at 19-33-4-2, remains in last place in the Midwest Division with 44 points. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues are tied for sixth with 46 points.

The Ice Dogs and Jr. Blues each have four games left, but the Bears have just two — Friday and Saturday at the Ice Dogs at 7:30 p.m.

The Jets, at 33-19-4-1, clinched the third seed in playoffs out of the Midwest with Sunday’s win.

“We’ve been out of the playoffs for the last two years,” Janesville coach Joe Dibble said. “To come back this season and solidifying at least a playoff spot a few weeks ago, and knowing you have that extended season after, hats off, obviously, to the guys.”

Dibble was happy with the way his team rounded into form after a shaky start to the three-game series.

“The Brown Bears played great hockey on Friday and Saturday, they played fast,” Dibble said. “It was a good hockey game, especially Saturday night.

“Then tonight, we were able to settle in a little bit.”

The playoffs are about special teams, defense and goaltending. The Jets checked all those boxes Sunday.

On special teams, the Bears were 0 for 2 on the power play, while the Jets were 3 for 4 and also scored on a penalty shot.

With 15:25 left in the first period and the score at 0-0, Kenai River earned 1:04 of five-on-three play and failed to score.

“It changes the whole game,” Dibble said. “Not only to kill off one of them, but to kill both of them off. It gave us a lot of momentum and confidence.”

With 1:35 left in the first period, James Taylor put the Jets up 1-0 with a power-play goal. Then with 16:47 left in the second period, Mason Kesselring scored on a penalty shot.

Kenai River fought back with goal by Gavin Duckworth, assisted by John Ross and Owen Hanson, with 10:27 left.

The rest of the period went back and forth on chances and the stage seemed set for a dramatic third period.

Just 31 seconds into the third period, though, Kenai River turned the puck over deep in its own zone and Conner Brown scored for a 3-1 game.

“You can’t win a game like that, especially after I liked the momentum we had in the second period,” Shaw said.

The game got away from the Bears quickly after a delay of game and bench minor resulted in a five-on-three for Janesville with 11:22 left in the game. Haden Kruse and Nick Sajevic quickly tacked on the power-play goals for a 5-1 lead, then Nick Stevens made it 6-1 at the 9:35 mark.

The Jets finished 7 of 15 on the power play for the weekend.

“We’ve got to find a way to kill penalties, and we needed one there,” Shaw said of the third period five-on-three. “You have to do it.

“They killed a five-on-three in the first period and we have to find a way to do it.”

With 3:15 left, Dylan Contreras, assisted by Landon MacDonald and Carter McCormick, scored on a breakaway for the Bears.

Bauer Murphy answered a little over a minute later on a nice cross-ice pass from Trey Fechko.

Jan Kasal made 23 saves for the Jets, while Conor Sullivan stopped 22 for the Bears.

“I know it’s their last weekend, but what an environment to play in,” Dibble said. “The crowd was awesome. The intensity in the building was awesome.

“Both teams battled for three nights in a row. It’s a fun place to play.”

Brady Engelkes of the Kenai River Brown Bears battles for the puck with Max Wagener and Ikki Kogawa of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brady Engelkes of the Kenai River Brown Bears battles for the puck with Max Wagener and Ikki Kogawa of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Carter McCormick of the Kenai River Brown Bears can’t stuff a goal past Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets goalie Jan Kasal on Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Carter McCormick of the Kenai River Brown Bears can’t stuff a goal past Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets goalie Jan Kasal on Sunday, March 31, 2024, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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