You cannot stop the Kenai River Brown Bears, you can only hope to contain them.
OK, granted, that’s a little much. After all, they’re only one-fifth of the way through their 60-game North American Hockey League schedule.
Still, the Brown Bears’ duplicate 3-1 road wins Saturday and Sunday over the Springfield Jr. Blues to wrap a sweep of the three-game series not only extended their winning streak to six games, but also catapulted them atop the Midwest Division standings (9-3-0, 18 points).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s an especially sizzling start for a franchise that endured a 14-41-5 campaign a year ago and didn’t earn its ninth win until deep into January. (We imagine Kenai River is as tired of hearing about last season’s slog as we are typing it, so we’re gonna put that sad stat to bed for the time being.)
Note also that Kenai River’s first 12 games this season were on the road, so this early surge should bolster the club’s confidence for another 12 straight road games in December and January.
🚨 BROWN BEARS WIN! BROWN BEARS WIN! 🚨
One more empty net goal, earns the Bears their second consecutive sweep!🧹 pic.twitter.com/SgVGPc63d7
— Kenai River Brown Bears (@BrownBearsNAHL) October 9, 2022
Saturday’s Kenai River victory had Alaska fingerprints all over it. Goaltender Bryant Marks of Wasilla, a UAA commit, stopped 23 shots to improve to 2-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. UAF commit Bryce Monrean of Anchorage bagged a goal and a career-high eight shots on goal, two more than his previous best. He delivered more of the same Sunday, bagging another goal and pumping his scoring line to 4-6—10 in 12 games. Sunday, Monrean cranked a team-high seven shots on goal to give him a team-leading 44 shots, or 3.67 per game. He thus far has doubled his average shots per game over last season, when he fired 1.88 shots per game. Forget calling him Bryce; at this rate we’ll just call him Shooter.
The Brown Bears are winning close games. Seven of their wins have been essentially by one goal – that’s counting a pair of two-goal wins, including Sunday’s, in which their cushion included an empty-net goal – and five of their wins in this six-game streak have essentially come by one goal.
Elsewhere in the NAHL Saturday, the Anchorage Wolverines (5-4-3) wrapped a two-game road sweep of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (7-5-0) with a 4-2 win that also snapped Anchorage’s three-game winless streak. The Morris twins of Anchorage, Cameron and Cooper, each bagged a goal for the Wolverines.
Anchorage’s 6-2 win at Fairbanks on Friday was also replete with contributions from Alaskans. UAF commit Aiden Westin of Anchorage generated 1-2—3 totals and a game-high five shots on goal. Long Island University commit Trent Powell of Soldotna went 1-1—2, as did Cameron Morris.
Sticking with junior hockey, two Anchorage skaters stamped their name on the scoresheet Saturday for the Fargo Force in a 4-3 U.S. Hockey League shootout loss to the Sioux Falls Stampede. Bret Link, a Colorado College commit, furnished an assist and five shots on goal to boost his season scoring line to 1-2—3 in four games. And 16-year-old center Mac Swanson likewise dished a helper, and he fired four shots. He’s 0-3—3 in four games.
Also in the USHL, Vermont commit Colin Kessler of Anchorage scored for the Sioux City Musketeers in a 2-1 loss to Des Moines. Kessler is 1-3—4 in three games.
In the American Hockey League over the weekend, Anchorage’s Nolan Walker, fresh out of St. Cloud State, made his exhibition debut on the circuit one level beneath the NHL. Walker played two games with the Toronto Marlies and pocketed a power-play assist in the second game. Meanwhile, second-year pro Cam Hausinger on Friday had one shot on goal for Milwaukee in a 3-1 exhibition loss at Chicago. And Anchorage goaltender Isaiah Saville stopped 35 of 39 shots for Henderson in a 5-2 road exhibition loss at Tucson.
In women’s NCAA Division I college pucks, Bemidji State junior goalie Hannah Hogenson of Anchorage made 40 saves in a 6-0 loss at No. 2-ranked Minnesota on Friday and followed by stopping 33 of 36 shots on a 4-1 loss to the Gophers on Saturday. Hogenson (1-3-1, 3.54, .895) could use some goal support. The Beavers have been outscored 19-6 in her five games.
Journey Miller of Soldotna and Mikayla Lantto of Wasilla each racked their first goal of the season, and each had three shots on goal, for Long Island in Friday’s 4-3 road win at Sacred Heart. Lantto’s two goals make her the only Sharks skater with multiple goals in Long Island’s 1-4-0 start.
In men’s Division I play, top-ranked and defending national champion Denver, coached by Anchorage’s David Carle, seized the Ice Breaker Tournament with Friday’s 5-2 win over No. 11 Notre Dame and Saturday’s 3-1 win over Maine. Speaking of Notre Dame, junior defenseman Zach Plucinski of Eagle River scored a goal for the Fighting Irish in Saturday’s 5-5 tie at Air Force. Notre Dame sophomore center Hunter Strand of Anchorage won 12 of 17 face-offs (70.6 percent) at Air Force, but the rest of the Irish muddled through draws, winning just 28 of 73 (38.4 percent). (Also, 90 draws in one game – that’s a ton of stoppages).
Finally, UAA fell twice at Colorado College over the weekend – 6-2 Friday and 4-1 Saturday. Saturday, the Seawolves’ lone goal came via a power-play one-timer from center Max Helgeson of Anchorage, whose 2-2—4 totals in four games tie him for the team lead in goals and points. Helgeson’s 12 shots on goal also lead the team.