The Kenai River Brown Bears had a tough time finding the back of the opposing net Thursday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Actually, the Brown Bears had a tough time with everything, as they fell victim to the Wenatchee Wild in a 6-0 rout.
The biggest discrepancy came in the shots tally, as Kenai River was outshot by Wenatchee 32-7 in the final two periods of play.
“We just worked hard on getting pucks to the net,” said Wenatchee head coach Bliss Littler. “When you’re dealing with teenagers, things happen. Things clicked tonight, but the Brown Bears will be back tomorrow night.”
Kyle Stephan scored a hat trick for the Wild, netting the first two goals of the night, then finishing it off with a garbage-time goal in the third period. Of course, there were no hats being thrown on the ice for him.
“Not in this barn, that’s for sure,” Stephan said, adding that the Olympic-sized ice rink played to Wenatchee’s advantage. “This was a big win, the big ice (rink) helped, we have a really dynamically speedy team. Having that extra bit of room to work with is really beneficial.”
Zach Quinn, a former Brown Bear who started five games early this season for the Bears, claimed the shutout in goal for the Wild by stopping all 16 shots sent his way.
“It was a team effort in front of me,” Quinn said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have had it. A shutout is usually on the goalie, but it was the team effort tonight.”
The loss leaves Kenai River (13-27-2) still two points behind the Minnesota Magicians for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest division standings. A win would have left the two teams equal, since Minnesota did not play Thursday.
Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said Kenai River’s biggest downfall came in a breakdown of the team system.
“We played as individuals tonight, and it was frustrating,” Beauparlant said. “(Wenatchee) played as a team, and they took advantage of our individuality tonight.
“It was 20 individuals trying to win a team game.”
On the first power play of the night, Wenatchee capitalized when Stephan collected the puck, skated down the right side of the ice and fired from the right faceoff circle to put the Wild up 1-0.
“They basically had it killed, and we scored on a rush right at the end,” Littler said.
Stephan added another goal four minutes into the second period, catching an assist from behind the net from Ryan Gotelaere and flipping the puck into the net with room to spare to extend the lead to 2-0.
Wenatchee missed a third opportunity to score just 45 seconds later when a shot from Mitch Demario rung the right post behind Kenai River goalie Evan Hauser.
The Bears were presented a chance to claw back some of their deficit with a power-play opportunity with 7:23 to play in the period, but failed to score. The Bears managed to find several good chances near the Wild goal, but none came to fruition. The Wild ended up with a 16-2 shots advantage during the period.
As the old hockey saying goes, a two-goal lead is a dangerous lead, and Beauparlant said his squad came out of the second intermission with renewed spirit. What they got, however, was more scoring on the wrong end of the ice.
Hauser highlighted a Brown Bears penalty kill early in the third period with a brilliant glove save in midair, but just a few short minutes later, Jake Ahlgren caught a long rebound shot and slapped the puck in cleanly to score and put the Wild up 3-0.
From there, Wenatchee scored three more in a span of 2:02, including the hat trick clincher from Stephan with 6:44 left in the game.
“Our lines just had a lot of speed and a lot of chemistry going,” Stephan said.
Unlike past games where defense was a struggle, however, coach Beauparlant did not pull Hauser from the net, opting to keep him on the ice for the duration of the game.
“I thought he was still competing, he was working to stop everything, there was no need for him to come out of the net,” Beauparlant said.
The two squads will face off again tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Wild 6, Brown Bears 0
Wenatchee 1 1 4 —6
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
1st period — 1. Wenatchee, Stephan (Pison, Jones), PP, 3:03. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
2nd period — 2. Wenatchee, Stephan (Gotelaere), 4:00. Penalties — Wenatchee 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 3. Wenatchee, Ahlgren (Harris, Burston), 6:59; 4. Wenatchee, Burston (Coyne, Demario), 11:14; 5. Wenatchee, Jones (Coyne, Raabe), 11:58; 6. Wenatchee, Stephan (Hamacher, Gotelaere), 13:16. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 17:00; Wenatchee 2 for 15:00.
Shots — Kenai River 9-2-5—16; Wenatchee 5-16-16—37.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (37 shots, 31 saves); Wenatchee, Quinn (16 shots, 16 saves).