The Kenai River Brown Bears and Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues split a North American Hockey League Series on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears won 2-1 on Friday before dropping a 6-1 contest on Saturday. The Bears are now 2-5-0-1 in their last eight and are 9-8-0-1 overall. The Blues snapped a five-game losing streak and are 6-8-2-1. Kenai River is in fourth in the Midwest Division with 19 points, while Springfield is in fifth at 13.
The Bears host the division-leading Minnesota Magicians on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, the story was three veterans. Three stars of the game. One tough win.
Gavin Enright, Alex Klekotka and Michael Spethmann played a major role for the Bears.
“We’ve got guys going through slumps, and that’s OK, especially the younger guys,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “I always say the young guys are going to struggle for a third of the season.
“The older guys have to pick us up and they did that tonight.”
It started with Enright, who is in his second season with the team and has one year of junior eligibility after this season. After allowing a goal to Spencer DenBeste just 2 minutes, 55 seconds, into the game, he was perfect the rest of the way in recording 19 saves.
Springfield head coach Tyler Rennette called Enright one of the best goalies in the league.
“We had a lot of Grade A’s tonight,” said Rennette, talking about the quality of Springfield’s chances. “We didn’t capitalize on them and they did.”
Enright’s most notable save came with 17:49 left in the second period, when he stopped Jonathan Panisa on a breakaway. Springfield also finished 0 for 6 on the power play and Enright was a big reason why.
Klekotka, in his third year with the Bears and in his last year of junior eligibility, was around the puck and putting shots on net all night. He was rewarded when he scored to level the game with 14:05 left in the first, on assists from Spethmann and Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik.
Petrich said it is hard to believe Klekotka only has two goals in 17 games considering the quality of his shot. Friday’s effort zoomed past Caleb Hannon (23 saves), hit the pipe and went in.
“I’ve had a ton of shots, but they have not been falling,” Klekotka said. “I just turned around and saw an opening on the left.”
It fell on Spethmann, in his second year with the team and his last year of junior eligibility, to produce the game-winner.
Rennette said his squad’s power play was good at the beginning of the season, but has tailed off as his players have become enamored with perimeter passing and not getting the puck to the net.
With 10:04 left in the game, Springfield was on the power play passing around the perimeter when Spethmann poked the puck away, shook off a player being called for a penalty and scored on the breakaway.
“Him and Krajnik are so much speed to handle on the penalty kill,” Petrich said. “They put pressure on the perimeter. Give him credit for staying on it and finishing it.”
Spethmann’s play got the seven-game homestand off on the right foot.
“It was frustrating going on the road and struggling,” Klekotka said. “You always want to come home and play well in front of your home crowd. You want to show them it’s worth it to keep coming.
“We were definitely playing for all of them up there.”
The Jr. Blues came out strong Saturday, ready to shake off the losing streak. Springfield took a 3-0 lead after the first period and didn’t look back.
Jack Williams had 36 saves for the Jr. Blues, while Enright stopped 41 for the Bears.
Kenai River’s lone goal was by Connor Scahill on an assist from JJ Boucher and Connor Canterbury of Eagle River.
Brown Bears 2, Jr. Blues 1
Springfield 1 0 0 — 1
Kenai River 1 0 1 — 2
First period — 1. Springfield, DenBeste (Puricelli, Kozyrev), 2:55; 2. Kenai River, Klekotka (Spethmann, Krajnik), 14:05. Penalties — Springfield 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Springfield 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Spethmann (Krajnik, Scahill), 10:04. Penalties — Springfield 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Springfield 9-8-3—20; Kenai River 11-9-5—25.
Goalies — Springfield, Hannon (25 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Enright (20 shots, 19 saves).