The Kenai River Brown Bears were swept by the host Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play, losing 3-1 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday.
The Bears fall to 10-22-1-1 after losing their sixth straight game and are in last place in the Midwest Division, two points behind the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill. The Tomahawks improve to 11-22-2-1 and are in fifth place in the East Division.
After going 2-9 on this road trip, the Bears now return to Soldotna for a four-game homestand, starting with 7:30 p.m. games against the Chill on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said it will be good to be home.
“I think it will be good to get back in front of our fans because they are so positive and caring about us,” Petrich said. “That’ll be good to get the guys back in that environment.
“At the same time, we have to do better at home than we did earlier this year.”
The Saturday loss was particularly tough to swallow because the Brown Bears went into the third period with a 3-1 lead. Petrich said a combination of selfish play and cheating the game resulted in losing that lead.
He said the Bears took a selfish penalty to negate a power play. Then, with 9 minutes, 1 second, left in the game, Petrich said one of the Brown Bears tried to get too offensive on the penalty kill, resulting in a Carson Briere goal to cut the gap to 3-2.
Ben Schmidling scored with 4:14 left and David Schmidling scored with 40 seconds left to get the win. Petrich said the Bears had some bad habits in the game but they hadn’t proven costly due to blocked shots and good saves. But those bad habits were costly on the last two goals.
“It’s the toughest one this year,” Petrich said of the loss.”This one hurts a lot.”
Making it tougher was the Bears executing a solid first period, something that has been a focus for quite some time.
Although Johnstown’s Pavel Kharin scored first in the game, Gil Garcia, Filip Karlsson and Michael Spethmann scored before the first was up for a 3-1 lead.
“When we go back and watch film we’ll reflect on the positives,” Petrich said. “Last Saturday, we played our best first five minutes and today our first period was solid.
“But again, we’re playing 45 minutes, or 50 or 55. We haven’t played a complete 60-minute game this year.”
Gavin Enright made 31 saves for Kenai River, while Kade Phipps had 31 saves for Johnstown.
Friday, Cade Groton slotted home the ultimate game-winner for Johnstown in the second period after the Brown Bears took an early lead.
Garcia scored the Brown Bears’ lone goal of the night in the first period of action.
Kenai River assistant Nick Sova, who served as head bench coach for the Bears on Friday in place of Petrich, who attended a family wedding, said the current 2-8 road trip for the Bears is not helping the team in terms of their place in the NAHL standings, but the team is learning a lot of lessons that he hopes will pay off in the end.
“We could’ve made it up, should’ve made it up,” Sova said. “These games are frustrating when the team you have can win, and isn’t finishing the way you want.”
Sova was pleased with the strong start by the Bears in the first period, and said that it spilled over into the two other periods.
“We’re coming down to the last 27 games of the season, and every game we play is a playoff game,” Sova explained.
Luke Radetic set up Garcia for the first goal of the night to put Kenai River up 1-0, getting a shot from the slot off a rebound off Johnstown goalie Phipps. Phipps put on a show with 27 saves on 28 shots.
“It started with (Radetic) going to net and making a play on the net,” Sova said. “If he doesn’t go the net there, we don’t get the rebound.”
However, the Tomahawks responded 1:13 later to tie it on a goal by Chris Trouba.
The Bears outshot the Tomahawks 13-9 in the second period, but the home team got the last laugh with a go-ahead goal by Groton, who scored off a rush that ended with him slotting home the top-shelf strike by Enright. Enright stopped 29 of 32 shots.
“We started out strong, they scored, and we backed off a little, as opposed to stepping on the gas,” Sova said. “They had swagger and momentum.
“The finishing minutes of each period, we didn’t execute like we were supposed to.”
Joe Kile finished off the scoring in the third with an insurance goal.
Bears notes: Anchorage’s Tyler Miknich, a 5-foot-9, 148-pound forward from Anchorage, has joined the team from the Amarillo (Texas) Bulls. Miknich played 51 games for the Bulls last season, recording three goals and three assists. He had appeared in six games for the Bulls this year, notching two assists.
He has a 1998 birthdate, which means he has one year of junior eligibility left after this season.
Petrich said Miknich is off to a great start, combining with David Kaplan and Alex Klekotka to make up the Bears’ best line Saturday. Miknich drew a pair of penalties.
“We’re very excited with what he brings in,” Petrich said. “He helps on the power play and he helps five-on-five.”
Forward Will Casey and defenseman Connor Matsinger have left the team. Casey, of Eagle River, played in 20 games and is looking for more playing time in his last year of junior hockey.
Matsinger has played six games after coming from the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues. Petrich said Matsinger has been accepted to college and will play closer to home in Pennsylvania before attending school.
Tomahawks 3, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Johnstown 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Garcia (Radetic), 8:31; 2. Johnstown, Trouba (Briere, Quetell), 9:44. Penalties — Johnstown 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Johnstown, Groton (DelPonte), 8:07. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Johnstown 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 4. Johnstown, Kile (Davidson, Baez), 7:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-13-6—28; Johnstown 10-9-13—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (32 shots, 29 saves); Johnstown, Phipps (28 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 5; Johnstown 0 for 3.
Tomahawks 4, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 3 0 0 — 3
Johnstown 1 0 3 — 4
First period — 1. Johnstown, Kharin (B. Schmidling, Quetell), 2:28; 2. Kenai River, Garcia (Kaplan), 6:33; 3. Kenai River, Karlsson (Garcia), 10:45; 4. Kenai River, Spethmann (Posner), 11:40. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Johnstown 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 5. Johnstown, Briere (Sengvongxay, Nedeljikovic), pp, 10:59; 6. Johnstown, B. Schmidling (Sengvongxay), 15:46; 7. Johnstown, D. Schmidling (Briere, Hale), 19:20. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Johnstown 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-16-6—34; Johnstown 14-12-9—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (35 shots, 31 saves); Johnstown, Phipps (34 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 7; Johnstown 1 for 7.