The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel 2-1 in North American Hockey League action Sunday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
After losing Friday in overtime and then again Saturday, the Bears were able to avoid the sweep thanks in large part to the 44 saves of Marks Slavinskis-Repe in his debut in net. Carter Wishart stopped 28 for the Steel.
“He had a lot of big-time saves,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said of Slavinskis-Repe. “I’m super happy for him to get his first taste.
“He just played with a ton of swagger, and that in itself has a calming effect.”
The Bears move up to third place in the tightly packed Midwest Division, where just nine points separate first and last place.
The Minnesota Wilderness lead with 26 points, while the Wisconsin Windigo have 25 and the Bears, at 10-10-2-0, have 22.
After that, four teams are tied with 20 points, including the Steel at 10-10-0-0. Also in the group are the Anchorage Wolverines, Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets. The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues are in last with 17 points.
Kenai River plays Friday at the Wolverines at 7 p.m., then hosts Anchorage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the sports complex. That will be the last home game for the Bears until Jan. 19.
Monday, Slavinskis-Repe was traded from the Northeast (Massachusetts) Generals to the Brown Bears for Petter Wickstrom.
Shaw said the trade gives Wickstrom a fresh start. Slavinskis-Repe, who is from Riga, Latvia, was 4-5 for the Generals with a .914 save percentage.
The 6-foot-3, 165-pounder said he was surprised to get traded and had just 12 hours to get in the air to Alaska. He thanked his billet parents with the Generals for helping him get ready for Alaska on short notice.
Next thing he knew, Slavinskis-Repe was arriving in Kenai on a Kenai Aviation flight.
“I never have flew that small a plane,” he said. “It was really cool. I liked it. I was excited.
“It’s snowing — like Christmas vibes here already — so it’s pretty cool.”
Riga is on the Baltic Sea, so when the area gets now, Slavinskis-Repe said it tends to be wet, rainy and dirty, and doesn’t stick in the trees due to the wind.
Despite the whirlwind week, Slavinskis-Repe settled in between the pipes.
“I know it’s a difference experience, different team, everything’s different,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s the same game — hockey — and I’ve been playing hockey since I was 7.
“Nothing really changes, you know?”
In the first period, Brock MacDonald, assisted by Jackson Ebbott, got the Bears on the board first. But with 7:15 left in the first, Peyton Platter scored on the power play to tie the game.
With 4:50 left in the first, Slavinskis-Repe stopped a Platter breakaway to keep the game even.
The Steel then controlled the second period, winning the shot count 21-12, but couldn’t score.
“We started out slow, then we kind of got in a groove in the second period and had some chances there,” Chippewa head coach Chris Ratzloff said. “He came up big a couple of times, and in the third, same thing.
“He was really good.”
With 14:41 left in the game, Andy Larson scored the game-winner. Nick Stevens got the puck out of the corner and Kotaro Tsutsumi bumped it to Larson out front.
“He’s a shooter, so he snapped one off,” Shaw said of Larson.
Even though this was the third game in three nights on the big ice sheet of the sports complex and Ratzloff said fatigue was a factor, the Steel kept coming.
With 10:41 left, Slavinskis-Repe stopped a breakaway by Tomas Trunda.
Then with 6:07 left, the goalie somehow stopped a wide-open chance on the back door. The goalie said the play was just about reflexes.
“And I got maybe a little bit lucky,” he said. “The hockey god was with me, and with Kenai, so I’m glad I made it.”
Shaw liked the resilience his team showed in the third period.
“I didn’t love our second period,” he said. “But we found a way to win at the end of the day. That’s what matters.”
Shaw also said Landon MacDonald had a successful debut weekend at forward for the Bears. MacDonald, committed to Division I Northern Michigan, was acquired in a trade from the North Iowa Bulls for Rylan Yates.