Kenai River Brown Bears top Fresno Monsters in OT thriller
Zac Lazzaro gained possession in the neutral zone, darted down the left wing and zipped the puck toward the net, using a defender to shield the shot.
"All week long, we talked about getting pucks on net, pucks on net," said Lazzaro, a rookie. "We kept working and it worked out for us in the end."
Lazzaro's goal in overtime propelled the Kenai River Brown Bears to a 5-4 win over the previously undefeated Fresno (Calif.) Monsters before 986 fans Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The victory puts the Bears at 6-3-0 overall, good for 12 points, in the North American Hockey League West Division. Fresno falls to 6-0-1 with 13 points. Both squads trail the first place Fairbanks Ice Dogs (6-0-5, 17 points).
Kenai River and Fresno also square off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 5 p.m. Sunday. Both games are at the sports center.
"It feels great," said a grinning Lazzaro, who scored less than a minute into the extra frame. "I can't wait to get back out here and do it again tomorrow. Just an exciting night."
On an evening the Monsters scored four goals on the power play, the Bears clawed back from a one-goal deficit during a wild third period in which the squads combined for five goals.
Fresno led 2-1 entering the last frame before Alex Frere, who had two goals to boost his team-leading season total to nine, tallied the equalizer on assists from Brett Lubanski and Bobby Murphy with about 16 minutes to play.
Second-year defenseman Ryan Walker, playing for the first time this season after a shoulder injury, then put the Bears up 3-2 with a blistering shot from straightway inside the 13-minute mark on assists from Frere and Lubanski.
That was one of many highlights for Walker, who was named the Bears' rookie of the year in 2010-11 and recently rejoined the team after an injury hindered his progress in the United States Hockey League.
He finished with a goal and an assist, starting alongside Austin Sture.
"Walker was outstanding. Every time I looked out there, he was one of the only calming feelings I've had the last three hours," Kenai River coach Oliver David said. "He's outstanding. What an addition. He can do everything."
But Fresno, which entered with a 4-0-0 record on the road, tied it at 3 less than two minutes later when Kyle Sucher scored on the one-man advantage.
The Monsters then reclaimed the lead on a Filip Winkler strike with 7:23 to play. That was the Monsters' fourth goal on the power play as they finished 100 percent on the advantage.
Special teams are a point of emphasis with David, but the coach said Friday's mistakes are fixable.
"It's hard to say there isn't really an issue. There is an issue. We got scored on 4 for 4," David said. "But we know what the issue is. It's a little bit of drifting, going out of position, and they are so good that they are going to find the hole. Every single time, they found the seam. It was all skill for them."
Frere wasn't finished, however.
The second-year player took a beautiful cross from Lubanski with the Bears on the power play, and one-timed the puck past the Fresno goaltender to knot the score at 4 with 1:12 remaining.
It was the third assist of the evening for Lubanski, the team's captain and one of the league's assist leaders last season.
"He has really good vision so it's fun to play with him," Frere said of Lubanski, who boasts a team-best nine assists.
The Frere-Lubanski connection set the stage for Lazzaro's winner, coming 56 seconds into overtime.
The rookie skated down the left side, used the defender to shield the puck and let a high shot rip, dropping to his knees when the shot hit the back of the net.
"I just wanted to put it on net," he said. "That's what coach wants us to do, and it went in for me."
Paul Bourbeau earned the win in net for the Bears, improving to 2-2 on the year.
The first-year player made 27 saves on 31 shots and didn't allow a goal at even strength, drawing the praise of his coach.
"Bourbeau is the reason we had a chance," David said.
The Bears converted 1 for 5 on the power play, having now converted 19 percent of their chances on the advantage. They have killed 70 percent of the power plays against them.
But when a squad converts 4 of 4 on the advantage, and creates as many chances as Fresno did Friday, it simply puts too much pressure on the goalie.
"Our goalie should not have to do that for 60 minutes," David said. "We're not going to win unless we all chip in all the time. We were lucky to win tonight."
Brown Bears 5, Monsters 4 (OT)
Fresno 1 1 2 0 --4
Kenai River 1 0 3 1 --5
First period - 1. Kenai River, Muller (Arkimo, Thompson), 7:36; 2. Fresno, Pauluk (McMinimy, Wallace), pp, 19:26. Penalties - Fresno 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period - 3. Fresno, Borer (Bradley, Wallace), pp, 19:18. Penalties - Fresno 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period - 4. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Murphy), 4:05; 5. Kenai River, Walker (Frere, Lubanski), pp, 5:31; 6. Fresno, Sucher (Bradley, McMinimy), pp, 8:50; 7. Fresno, Winkler (Bradley, Sucher), pp, 12:37; 8. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Walker), pp, 18:48. Penalties - Fresno 4 for 11:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Overtime - 9. Kenai River, Lazzaro (Nuth, Stenejhem), 0:56. Penalties - none.
Penalties - Fresno 8 for 19:00; Kenai River 7 for 17:00.
Shots on goal - Fresno (14-11-6-0-31); Kenai River (11-8-12-1-32).
Goalies - Fresno, Haight (32 shots, 27 saves); Kenai River, Bourbeau (31 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays - Fresno 4 for 4; Kenai River 1 for 5.