Brown Bears take rubber match in lone NAHL game on Sunday
January 26, 2015
By Jeff Helminiak, Peninsula Clarion
Coulee Region 1 @ Kenai River 2 - The only place chill didn’t hold considerable sway this weekend was in the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Kenai River, where the Bears emerged from a 14-game losing streak to take two of three from the Coulee Region Chill. Sunday, the Bears won the rubber match in the series, 2-1.
“We just played with total team effort,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Like (Chill coach) AJ (Degenhardt) said Friday, you have to play 60 minutes in this league if you expect to win. It was a hard-fought series that shows how much parity is in this league, and how good of a hockey club we can be.”
The chase is now officially on for the last playoff spot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. Kenai River, at 13-26-2, trails the Minnesota Wilderness by two points. Both teams have 19 games to play. The Chill are at 21-13-6 in the Midwest, seven points out of second but 18 points ahead of fourth.
After losing 1-0 Saturday, the Bears came out strong in the first period, outshooting the Chill 15-7 en route to a 36-34 advantage for the game. Kenai River built some momentum killing off a penalty, getting a couple good short-handed chances at the 7:10 mark, and capitalized on that momentum at 6:46 when Jack Gessert sent a puck to the net that bounced off Maurin Bouvet and in.
The Gessert-Bouvet-Alex Jackstadt line, which was involved in four of the Bears’ five goals during the three-game series, kept clicking with 25 seconds left in the first. Bouvet got the puck out front to Jackstadt. Somehow the puck found its way to Gessert, and he buried the opportunity. Gessert now has 21 goals on the season, three behind the league lead.
The Chill responded by controlling the first six minutes of play in the second period, but Kenai River held the fort with its improved defense and goaltending. During the losing streak, the Bears gave up 4.9 goals a game. But they held Coulee to four goals in the series.
“It was a lot more perimeter shots,” said Kenai River goalie Alec Derks, who made 33 saves. “The D is doing a great job of keeping the puck away from the front of the net.”
Beauparlant said the defenders must be confident in the goalie’s ability to save those perimeter shots, more often than not without a rebound, in order for the defense to be solid.
Derks’ biggest moment came after the Bears took a 1-0 lead in the first period and Charlie Parker earned a breakaway. Derks stopped the initial charge as well as two more pretty good pokes.
“We got the situational saves this weekend from both guys,” Beauparlant said, also referring to Evan Hauser. “It was tough for Derks because he hadn’t played in four games.”
The goalies teamed up to take two of three from Adam Carlson, a Division I recruit who had 34 saves Sunday.
“It’s a good start for me and him, now we just have to keep going and pushing each other in practice,” Derks said.
The third period was a gut check for both teams, with long periods without a whistle on the big sports complex ice pushing fitness to the limit.
“When you play three in a row, it’s always going to be a grind on that third day, especially in the third period,” Gessert said. “But we found a way and got good contributions from the third and fourth lines.”