Kenai River Brown Bears split with Alaska Avalanche
Get the puck to the net.
That was the prevailing message from Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David following his squad's 4-3 win over the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer before 921 fans Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
A night later, the Avs upended the Bears 4-2 in front of 681.
The split moves the Bears to 5-3-0 for 10 points in the North American Hockey League, while the Avs are 3-4-1, good for seven points.
Kenai River was outshot for the fifth time in seven games Friday as Alaska put 32 shots on the net to the Bears' 27. On Saturday, the Bears put 35 shots on goal to the Avs' 34, although Alaska muscled 20 shots in a second period in which they opened a 3-0 lead.
Although the team is 4-1 when the opponent shoots more, David said Kenai River must do a better job of directing pucks to the net.
"That's when things happen," David said. "It's the same in football, it's the same in soccer, you get the ball, get the puck down in the red zone, the end zone, then you whack away at it. That's what it is."
Three of the Bears' four goals Friday came on rebounds after the puck had entered the scoring zone. Sean Muller, who was named Kenai River's player of the game with two goals, tied the score at 1 on a second-chance effort with 13:58 to play in the second period.
The puck bounced to Muller after Mikael Arkimo fired a shot toward the crease off a Matt Thompson tip. Muller, a 5-foot-8 forward, then redirected it in traffic.
Newcomer Nick O'Donnell put the Bears up 2-1 with 5:15 left in the period, making a left-to-right move to blast the puck past Alaska goaltender Bodhi Engum.
Dominic Granato and Skyler McKnight earned assists on the play, which was the only goal for Kenai River that didn't come off a rebound or deflected shot.
After a pair of Alaska goals in the third, including a shorthanded strike, Muller found the equalizer with 11:13 remaining.
The second-year player took yet another rebound, this one off a blistering shot by Jesse Ramsey, and poked the puck past Engum, who didn't have enough time to recover after blocking Ramsey's attempt.
"Muller was a bright spot in the team effort tonight," David said. "He is at his best around that net. Not when he has to carry it all alone and thinks he has to do everything for everybody."
Muller, meanwhile, credited his teammates.
"Both my goals were just unreal efforts by line mates," he said.
Alex Frere, the team's leading goal scorer, won it for Kenai River on a power play when he finished assists from Raymond Stenejhem and Brett Lubanski about midway through the final period.
Stenejhem cracked his stick when he fired a shot from straightaway, but Frere scooped up the puck and put it in the net.
Kenai River rookie goaltender Auston Severson closed the door after that, making 29 saves on 32 shots to improve to 4-0. He is the first goalie in franchise history to win his first four starts.
Severson has earned his wins as the Bears have allowed 251 shots while managing 218 (35.9 per game to 31.1).
Yet the only game they lost in which they were outshot was against the Janesville (Wis.) Jets.
The Jets drilled 41 shots to Kenai River's 22 in a 4-2 win at the NAHL Showcase Tournament last week in Blaine, Minn.
There's no secret David wants his players to pepper the opposing squad's goal.
"Coach has been preaching more shots, more shots," Muller said. "I think we try to pick our shots a little bit too much."
It wasn't the Bears' best performance, but they showed resiliency in coming behind from a one-goal deficit and found a way to hold on once they gained the lead.
"I thought we were flat, but composed, didn't really ever ride the roller coaster of emotion," David said. "They were pretty even-keel without the lead. And in the end, we won a hockey game on the power play on a rebound goal and were able to defend for eight, nine minutes."
On Saturday, Frere and Muller tallied the Bears' goals, both coming in the third period after the team fell behind 4-0.
Severson got the start in net, but was pulled after he allowed three goals on 16 shots. It was the first loss of the season for Severson, who was replaced by Paul Bourbeau.
Bourbeau gave up one goal on 18 shots.
Scoring for Alaska was Jesse Kessler, Patrick Kinkopf, Evan Janssen and Kevin Novakovich.
Nick Kulmanovsky earned the win in net for Alaska.
The Bears host the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the sports center and at the same time Saturday.
Brown Bears 4, Avalanche 3
Alaska 1 0 2 -3
Kenai River 0 2 2 -4
First period - 1. Alaska, Pavek (unassisted), 19:02. Penalties - Alaska 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period - 2. Kenai River, Muller (Arkimo, Thompson), 6:02. 3. Kenai River, O'Donnell (Granato, McKnight), 14:45. Penalties - Alaska 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period - 4. Alaska, Darge (Schmitz), 1:50; 5. Alaska, Janssen (Dau), sh, 7:09; 6. Kenai River, Muller (McKnight, Ramsey), 8:16; 7. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Stenejhem), pp, 10:43. Penalties - Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Penalties - Alaska 6 for 12:00; Kenai River 6 for 12:00.
Shots on goal - Alaska (12-9-11-32); Kenai River (8-10-9-27).
Goalies - Alaska, Engrum (27 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Severson (32 shots, 29 saves).
Power plays - Alaska 1 for 3; Kenai River 1 for 3.
Avalanche 4, Brown Bears 2
Alaska 1 2 1 -4
Kenai River 0 0 2 -2
First period - 1. Alaska, Kessler (unassisted), 15:59. Penalties - Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River none.
Second period - 2. Alaska, Kinkopf (Pavek, Kontny), 1:21; 3. Alaska, Janssen (Novakovich, Dau), 6:45. Penalties - Alaska 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period - 4. Alaska, Novakovich (Kessler, Janssen), 6:13; 5. Kenai River, Muller (Thompson, Arkimo), 6:45; 6. Kenai River, Frere (Murphy, Stenehjem), 7:36. Penalties - Alaska 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Penalties - Alaska 8 for 16:00; Kenai River 6 for 12:00.
Shots on goal - Alaska (8-20-6-34); Kenai River (15-6-14-35).
Goalies - Alaska, Kulmanovsky (34 shots, 32 saves); Kenai River, Severson (16 shots, 13 saves), Bourbeau (18 shots, 17 saves).
Power plays - Alaska 0 for 1; Kenai River 1 for 3.