Kenai River Brown Bears forward Owen Hanson and Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Trent Powell battle for the puck Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Owen Hanson and Anchorage Wolverines defenseman Trent Powell battle for the puck Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Wolverines complete sweep of Brown Bears

One of the main purposes of the Kenai River Brown Bears program has always been for local skaters to have success.

Saturday, the success of Trent Powell, who was born and raised in Soldotna, was costly for the Bears. Powell, an 18-year-old committed to Division I Long Island University, had two goals and an assist, including the game-winner, as the Anchorage Wolverines defeated the Bears 5-2 to complete a two-game sweep at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League play.

The Bears finished with a 6-8-1 record on their longest homestand of the year and fell to 15-11-1-0, good for fourth place in the Midwest Division. The Wolverines are 11-10-4-1 and in sixth in the tight eight-team division, where just 12 points separate first and last place.

The Wolverines also continue to be a force in the Club 49 Cup, with 14 points to the nine of Fairbanks and five of Kenai River. The Bears and Wolverines shift the rivalry to Ben Boeke Ice Arena in Anchorage for 7 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.

Kenai River doesn’t return to the sports complex until Jan. 27.

“It sucks to not be up here for eight weeks and we just got swept,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “I’m not happy about it and I know the guys aren’t happy about it.

“Hopefully, we can do the same thing to them and at least leave the state on a high note.”

Friday, the Wolverines needed two goals in the final minute for a 3-2 victory, but Shaw was not happy with the way his team played in general.

Saturday, Shaw was happier with his team’s effort, but the coach said the Wolverines won the goaltending battle and got the better of a penalty-filled second period.

After a scoreless first period, Kenai River was whistled for seven two-minute penalties in the second period, while Anchorage had three two-minute penalties.

Kenai River took the lead early in the second on a power-play goal from a five-minute major late in the first period. Garett Drotts scored on assists from Hunter Newhouse and Caleb Huffman.

Mason LeBel tied it for Anchorage on Powell and Fedya Nikolayenya assists, but Ryan Finch, with help from Huffman and Ben Monson, made it 2-1 with 14:29 left in the second. Finch returned to the lineup this weekend after being out since early October with an injury.

Nikolayenya tied it for Anchorage, then Powell got to work, scoring power-play goals with 6:54 and 5:04 left in the second to put his squad up 4-2. The second tally knocked Bears goalie Bryant Marks from the game with 20 saves on 24 shots. Nils Wallstrom came on and saved all nine shots he faced.

Powell now has five goals and six assists in 24 games for Anchorage. Three of those goals and two assists have come in the four games at the sports complex.

Even though Powell has been skating at the sports complex since he was little, he said he doesn’t feel different there and just tries to play his game. He said the extra space on the big sheet helps, as does teammates setting him up to succeed.

“I just think it’s the luck of the draw,” he said of his sports complex success. “It’s a little bit of luck with the fans and family being here.”

Anchorage head coach Evan Trupp said playing at home gives Powell an energy boost.

“He’s just Mr. Reliable,” Trupp said. “He plays the right way. He plays hard. You give him some advice and you see it the next shift. He’s very coachable, and has a good hockey sense.”

The Bears outshot Anchorage 40-34 despite having five power plays to Anchorage’s eight. At the end of the second period, Kenai River pushed hard to get back in the game. Anchorage goalie Shane Soderwall, who had 38 saves, stopped multiple flurries in front of the net.

“We’ve been really focusing on trying to win our net-front battles and trying to give him space to see the puck so he can make those saves,” Trupp said. “He was very good for us.”

The Anchorage coach said his team has been very good this season at making the third period dramatic, either by making a big comeback or letting a team back in the game. Saturday, Trupp said his team did a good job closing the game out in the third period. David Tolan clinched it with an empty-netter with 1:25 left.

“The penalties, obviously, kill the momentum five-on-five,” Shaw said. “I like our group’s response. I like that we fought the adversity and tried to get through it.

“For me, their goalie made some saves when he needed to, and we didn’t have that when we really needed it.”

Huffman commits to University of Alaska Anchorage

Brown Bears defenseman Caleb Huffman, who is from Anchorage, committed to Division I University of Alaska Anchorage late in the week and will join the Seawolves after Christmas, meaning Huffman played his last home game for the Bears.

Shaw said it’s rare to lose a player to college in the middle of a season, but the Seawolves need a defenseman. The Bears lose a captain who has three goals and 12 assists in 27 games this season. Last season, Huffman had seven assists in 55 games for Kenai River.

“I mean, once in a blue moon,” Shaw said of losing a player midseason. “We’re super ecstatic for him. We couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a night and day difference from the kid we had in the locker room last year. And truthfully, that’s all on him because he made the effort to fix everything.”

Shaw said Huffman, 20, took the long way to the commitment. He said Huffman was heavier than he needed to be, then underwent a growth spurt that has him at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, but that growth spurt also forced Huffman to relearn how to skate. He kept plugging away at the lower levels of junior hockey before making the Bears last season.

“Everybody wrote him off,” Shaw said. “He’s had a long journey. So for him to be able to get a deal to play in front of his mom and dad and family, that’s a good opportunity for him.”

Saturday

Wolverines 5, Brown Bears 2

Anchorage 0 4 1 —5

Kenai River 0 2 0 —2

First period — none. Penalties — Anchorage 3 for 27:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Second period — 1. Kenai River, Drotts (Newhouse, Huffman), pp, 0:24; 2. Anchorage, LeBel (Powell, Nikolayenya), 4:36; 3. Kenai River, Finch (Huffman, Monson), 5:31; 4. Anchorage, Nikolayenya (Westin, Reis), 10:40; 5. Anchorage, Powell (Westin, Hennen), pp, 13:04; 6. Anchorage, Powell (Nikolayenya, Hennen), pp, 14:56. Penalties — Anchorage 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 7 for 14:00.

Third period — 7. Anchorage, Tolan (un.), en, 18:35. Penalties — Anchorage 2 for 4:00.

Shots on goal — Anchorage 11-13-10—34; Kenai River 13-16-11—40.

Goalies — Anchorage, Soderwall (40 shots, 38 saves); Kenai River, Marks (24 shots, 20 saves), Wallstrom (9 shots, 9 saves).

Power plays — Anchorage 2 for 8; Kenai River 1 for 5.

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Noah Holt takes on Luke Anderson and Kade Shea of the Anchorage Wolverines on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Noah Holt takes on Luke Anderson and Kade Shea of the Anchorage Wolverines on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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