Brendan Harris, Jake Ahlgren and Colin Burston of the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild were put together on a line Saturday in Fairbanks.
Less than one week later, they were dominating the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Harris and Ahlgren each had a goal and two assists, and Burston added two goals, as the Wild topped the Brown Bears 5-1 in front of 518 on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The same line produced more success Saturday, as the Wild crushed the Bears to the tune of a 9-3 victory.
The Bears gave up 20 goals over the three-game series.
After two first-period goals from Dakota Raabe and Burston (with assists from Harris and Ahlgren), Kenai River opened the second frame with two goals of its own.
Matt Rudin and Maurin Bouvet scored before five minutes were up in the period to knot the event up at two goals apiece.
However, only 17 seconds after Bouvet’s strike, Stevie Bryant put Wenatchee back up with a tally of his own.
The end of the second period got really ugly for Kenai River, as the Wild scored three times in a span of 1 minutes, 17 seconds, getting goals from Harris, Andre Pison and Kyle Stephan. The defensive lapse left the Bears facing a 6-2 hole heading into the locker rooms for the second intermission.
In the third period, Wenatchee piled on more points with goals from August Von Ungern-Sternberg, Ryan Chiasson and Pison. Maurin Bouvet netted a third goal for Kenai River midway through the frame.
Pison ended the night with two goals and two assists. Ahlgren ended with three assists, and Kyle Stephan finished with a goal and two assists.
The Bears fall to 13-29-2 and are now three points behind the Minnesota Magicians for the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. Wenatchee, winners of three straight, is 19-18-7 and in fifth place in the South Division.
Friday’s loss was no consolation to the Bears either.
“We got off to a slow start, but we’ve developed some chemistry and now we’re competing our butts off,” Harris, who has committed to Division I St. Cloud State, said of his new linemates.
For the second straight night, the Bears had no answer for Wenatchee’s speed and skill. Thursday, the Bears lost 6-0 and were outshot 37-16, and Friday’s shot count was 42-20.
“They have a good hockey club,” Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “We haven’t been able to match their intensity for the first 120 minutes. We’ve only been able to do it in spurts.”
Beauparlant said Wenatchee does a great job eliminating time and space, placing a premium on puck management. The coach said the majority of the goals Friday came from poor puck management.
Just 8 minutes, 31 seconds, into the game, poor puck management had the Bears down 2-0 after goals by Troy Conzo and Harris, although the goal by Harris involved some bad luck when Bears defenseman Gustav Berglund turned the puck over after losing an edge and falling down.
Before the end of the first, the Bears cut the lead to 2-1 when Jack Gessert scored on assists from Bouvet and Alex Jackstadt.
Beauparlant credited Jackstadt with a strong game overall, while Gessert is fourth in the league in goals with 22, just two behind the leader.
But Ahlgren and Burston scored in the second to push the advantage to 4-1, and Burston added a tally in the third period for good measure.
The Wild are a young team. Head coach Bliss Littler says he has 13 players in high school. But Wenatchee is also loaded with talent, with eight Division I commitments tying the Wild for second in the league.
“Our young kids are starting to grow up,” Littler said.
Harris said the current road trip to Alaska has helped the team.
“We spend every day together for two weeks,” he said.
Wenatchee’s high-pressure style did lead to some great opportunities for the Bears, but goalie Michael Bullion, who is from Anchorage, was equal to the task.
“We want to play a skill game and get up and down the ice,” Littler said. “When you play that way, you’re going to give up chances, and you have to trust in the goalie to make the save.”
Beauparlant said his team played better than Thursday by creating more opportunities and not letting Wenatchee spend as much time in the offensive zone.
“The bottom line is they capitalized on our mistakes and we didn’t capitalize on theirs,” he said.
Beauparlant added that Alec Derks had a solid game in net, with the highlight being a save on a penalty shot in the second period.
Wild 9, Brown Bears 3
Wenatchee 2 4 3 —9
Kenai River 0 2 1 —3
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Raabe (Demario, Coyne), 7:30; 2. Wenatchee, Burston (Harris, Ahlgren), 8:56. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Rudin (Kresl, Zulkanycz), 3:12; 4. Kenai River, Bouvet (Jackstadt, Andrews), 4:51; 5. Wenatchee, Bryant (Demario, Ahlgren), 5:08; 6. Wenatchee, Harris (Ahlgren, Bailey), 17:28; 7. Wenatchee, Pison (Stephan, Rockwell), 17:48; 8. Wenatchee, Stephan (Pison, Powlowski), PP, 18:45. Penalties — Wenatchee 5 for 21:00; Kenai River 7 for 36:00.
Third period — 9. Wenatchee, Von Ungern-Sternberg (Bailey, Bryant), 4:01; 10. Wenatchee, Chiasson (Pison, Baker), 4:22; 11. Kenai River, Bouvet (Jackstadt, Berglund), 12:51; 12. Wenatchee, Pison (Stephan), 17:06. Penalties — none.
Shots — Kenai River 7-12-7—26; Wenatchee 12-11-11—34.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (34 shots, 25 saves); Wenatchee, Quinn (26 shots, 23 saves).
Power play — Kenai River 0 for 2; Wenatchee 1 for 4.
Wild 5, Brown Bears 1
Wenatchee 2 2 1 —5
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Wenatchee, Conzo (Bryant, Jones), 4:33; 2. Wenatchee, Harris (Stephan, Demario), 8:31; 3. Kenai River, Gessert (Bouvet, Jackstadt), 15:31. Penalties — none.
Second period — 4. Wenatchee, Ahlgren (un.), 1:07; 5. Wenatchee, Burston (Harris, Ahlgren), 12:20. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Wenatchee, Burston (Harris, Ahlgren), 10:24. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Wenatchee 16-12-14—42; Kenai River 9-4-7—20.
Goalies — Wenatchee, Bullion (20 shots, 19 saves); Kenai River, Derks (42 shots, 37 saves).
Power plays — Wenatchee 0 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 2.