The Topeka (Kansas) RoadRunners defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 4-1 on Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in the rubber match of the three-game series.
Topeka is now 17-30-4-1 while Kenai River is 11-41-2-0.
Saturday, the Bears outshot the RoadRunners 35-32 in the game, but it was Topeka jumping out to a 3-0 lead.
Just 45 seconds into the game, Alex Frye, coming off a hat trick Friday, scored unassisted. Jeff Makowski had the lone goal of the second period, while Will Schlagenhauf scored with 4 minutes, 36 seconds, left in the game.
Evan Butcher, assisted by Jonathan Marzec, gave the Bears some life when he scored a short-handed goal with 3:34 to play. But Topeka’s John Wojciechowski came back later on that power play to score and ice the game.
Ryan Snowden had 34 saves for Topeka, while Robbie Goor stopped 28 for the Bears.
Friday, the RoadRunners notched a 5-3 victory because Frye cashed in on opportunity and Ben Churchfield snuffed it out.
Frye registered a hat trick — scoring his Topeka’s last three goals of the game — while Churchfield stood tall in net during crucial power plays to draw the RoadRunners even in the three-game series.
Neither team is going to the playoffs, but neither team is mailing it in, either. Friday’s game was a competitive affair with two fights.
“Every game at this level is competitive,” Topeka head coach Josh Kamrass said. “That’s what makes this league so great. Kenai made us earn everything.”
After the Bears notched a 3-1 victory Thursday, Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton predicted the RoadRunners would come out strong and was right.
Topeka won the shot count in the first period 13-3 and went ahead 2-0 on goals by Jay Keranen and Jake Rosenbaum. Just 5 minutes, 8 seconds, into the second period, Frye had his first goal for a 3-0 lead.
“We didn’t play as intense in the first and second periods as we did last night,” Worlton said.
Midway through the second period, Jake Friedman got the Bears going when he took a pass from Ethan Stewart and popped it in off the top bar.
Just over a minute later, momentum kept going Kenai River’s way when the Bears went on the power play, then earned another power play with 20 seconds left in the first power play. But Churchfield made the saves he had to.
“On the penalty kill, especially the five-on-three, the goalie must be your best player,” Kamrass said. “Ben stepped up and rose to the occasion. He’s a veteran guy we brought in at Christmas and he’s been good for us.”
Topeka took the momentum from that penalty kill and went on the power play itself, with Frye snapping home another goal for a 4-1 game with 1:10 left in the second period.
In the third, Worlton said he saw the intensity the Bears need to be successful. At 18:52, Bears forward Anthony Tzveyn chased down a long pass and pushed it to the far post past the goalie, but it was ruled no goal. Worlton said the goal went in and was frustrated the referee did not consult with the goal judge, who had lit the lamp. But Kamrass said the puck did not go in, bouncing off the far post.
The Bears did not let that slow them down, with Tyler Rock scoring on assists from Ryan Mezera and Sam Sterne with 13:28 to play. Less than 30 seconds later, a double minor put the Bears on the power play for four minutes, but they could not capitalize. Kenai River was 0 for 5 with the extra man, while Topeka was 1 for 2.
“You’ve got to score on a five-on-three power play and a four-minute power play if you want to win,” Worlton said.
The Bears did get it within a goal with 7:25 left, with Tzveyn scoring on assists from Lucas Carroll and Evan Butcher.
With the Bears swarming more and more tasting the equalizer, Frye administered the back-breaker with another clean release past Kenai goalie Colts Hanks with 3:04 left. Hanks had 23 saves, while Churchfield had 27. Frye, 18, played 55 games with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League last season. He has 17 goals and 11 assists in 44 games for Topeka this season after piling on three more points Saturday.
“Frye has tremendous skills,” Kamrass said. “When he works hard and competes, those skills shine. He’s been playing well for us.”
Kamrass also said it was nice to be back in Alaska. He actually came to the state in the Brown Bears’ first season in 2007-08, when Kamrass was a player with the RoadRunners, notching 23 goals and 45 assists in 53 games. But that trip was in January, so Kamrass is enjoying all the scenery the daylight of spring affords.
“This is a good place to be,” he said. “Everybody hates to see a team that may be out of the picture for next year. I’m sure it’s tough on the guys and tough on Jeff, but he’s kept them focused. Hats off to him.”
The Bears host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the final two home games of the season.
RoadRunners 5, Brown Bears 3
Topeka 2 2 1 — 5
Kenai River 0 1 2 — 3
First period — 1. Topeka, Keranen (Makowski, Rosenbaum), 2:56; 2. Topeka, Rosenbaum (Granowicz), 15:36. Penalties — Topeka 4 for 19:00; Kenai River 4 for 19:00.
Second period — 3. Topeka, Frye (Harper, Nelson), 5:08; 4. Kenai River, Friedman (Stewart), 10:01; 5. Topeka, Frye (Makowski, Rosenbaum), pp, 18:50. Penalties — Topeka 5 for 29:00; Kenai River 3 for 17:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Rock (Mezera, Sterne), 6:32; 7. Kenai River, Tzveyn (Carroll, Butcher), 12:35; 8. Topeka, Frye (Harper, Cyr), 16:56. Penalties — Topeka 3 for 24:00.
Shots on goal — Topeka 13-7-8—28; Kenai River 8-12-10—30.
Goalies — Topeka, Churchfield (30 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Hanks (28 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Topeka 1 for 2; Kenai River o for 5.
RoadRunners 4, Brown Bears 1
Topeka 1 1 2 — 4
Kenai River 0 0 1 — 1
First period — 1. Topeka, Frye (un.), 0:45. Penalties — Topeka 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Topeka, Makowski (Rosenbaum, Erickson), 9:43. Penalties — none.
Third period — 3. Topeka, Schlagenhauf (Frye, Makowski), 15:24; 4. Kenai River, Butcher (Marzec), sh, 16:26; 5. Topeka, Wojciechowski (Rosenbaum, Frye), pp, 17:37. Penalties — Topeka 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Shots on goal — Topeka 7-12-13—32; Kenai River 10-15-10—35.
Goalies — Topeka, Snowden (35 shots, 34 saves); Kenai River, Goor (32 shots, 28 saves).