The Kenai River Brown Bears were swept by the New Jersey Titans in the Brown Bears’ North American Hockey League home-opening series Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears lost 3-0 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday to fall to 0-5-1, while the Titans moved to 5-2-1.
Friday, the Bears were unable to find the back of the net.
“We started off well, we just weren’t willing to pay the price to score goals,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “We were looking to do it the easy way.”
New Jersey netminder Brandon Bussi was the one making goals extremely expensive.
Bussi, an 18-year-old listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, was 0-2 coming into the game.
But Titans head coach Craig Doremus said Bussi drew attention from NHL Central Scouting last season before getting drafted by the Bloomington (Indiana) Thunder in the United States Hockey League draft.
Bussi spent August and September with the Thunder, but was cut and now is an affiliate.
“He just needed a couple of weeks off after he got back from the USHL,” Doremus said after his squad moved to 4-2-1. “We knew he was capable of playing the way he did tonight in getting his first win in this league.”
The Bears came out strong in front of the crowd of 522 and peppered Bussi with shots early.
“He was seeing the puck well and making saves and we didn’t do anything to change that,” Worlton said of Bussi. “We didn’t make it hard for him with things like traffic in front and tips.”
The momentum changed when New Jersey went on the power play and Jordan Kaplan buried a shot from the faceoff dot with 8 minutes, 43 seconds, left in the first period.
Even through two Brown Bears power plays, the Titans built momentum and fully controlled the second period.
With 4:17 gone in the second, Kenai River turned the puck over in the center of its own zone. Greg Malafronte got the turnover and shifted it to Anthony Cusanelli for a 2-0 lead.
“Anytime you can create a turnover in that area of the ice, it’s lethal,” Doremus said.
After that, Kenai River goalie Bailey Seagraves held the fort for the rest of the game.
Kaplan had two breakaways in the final 10 minutes of the second but was denied on both. Seagraves made 38 saves, while Bussi had 27.
“Seagraves played well,” Worlton said. “They were able to get breakaways and odd-man rushes and he was able to stop them.”
In the third period, the Bears won the shot count 7-5 but Bussi made sure the score didn’t change.
The Bears went on the power play with 3:37 to play and pulled Seagraves. They had several good chances, but couldn’t convert in falling to 0 for 5 with the extra man.
With 1:38 to play, Danny Eruzione had a player draped on his stick when he flicked the puck two-thirds the length of the ice and it went in to clinch the game.
When you’re the nephew of the guy who scored the game-winner in the “Miracle on Ice,” it’s the type of goal you get.
Saturday, the Titans scored four goals in the second period to take control of the game.
“We just had some miscommunications and some problems with line changes,” Kenai River assistant head coach Josh Dallmann said. “We’re a young team and we’re bound to make some mistakes. Unfortunately, they were able to capitalize on those mistakes.
“As a staff, we’re going to address it and figure out how to get better.”
The Bears were able to score their first goal of the series in the third period, when Jonathan Marzec connected on the power play on assists from Connor Inger and Evan Butcher.
Dallmann said the team started to realize the price needed to score goals in the third period.
“We started to turn the corner with kids willing to pay that price a bit more,” Dallmann said. “We were missing that grit factor in the first two periods, but that was turned around in the third.”
Harrison Feenery had 27 saves for the Titans, while Connor Poczos had 42 saves for the Bears.
The Bears host the Johnstown Tomahawks at the sports complex Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Titans 3, Brown Bears 0
New Jersey 1 1 1 —3
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. New Jersey, Kaplan (Antonucci), pp, 10:17. Penalties — New Jersey 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. New Jersey, Cusanelli (Malafronte), 4:17. Penalties — New Jersey 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. New Jersey, Eruzione (un.), sh, en, 18:12. Penalties — New Jersey 2 for 6:00; Kenai River 1 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — New Jersey 17-19-5—41; Kenai River 10-10-7—27.
Goalies — New Jersey, Bussi (27 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Seagraves (40 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — New Jersey 1 for 2, Kenai River 0 for 5.
Titans 4, Brown Bears 1
New Jersey 0 4 0 —4
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — none. Penalties — New Jersey 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 5 for 10:00.
Second period — 1. New Jersey, Andreev (Goehring), 2:21; 2. New Jersey, Healey (Boyagian, Parrott), sh, 4:36; 3. New Jersey, Malafronte (un.), 10:37; 4. New Jersey, Riedell (Andreev, Eruzione), 14:40. Penalties — New Jersey 1 for 2, Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Marzec (Inger, Butcher), 10:09. Penalties — New Jersey 5 for 18:00; Kenai River 7 for 38:00.
Shots on goal — New Jersey 16-14-16—46; Kenai River 10-8-10—28.