WENATCHEE — A series of untimely mistakes cost the Wenatchee Wild a shot at snapping their losing streak Saturday at the Town Toyota Center.
The Wild outshot the Kenai River Brown Bears for the second evening in a row and dictated the pace of play on the ice for long stretches, but couldn’t convert the opportunities into goals, fell 3-1 and lost their fifth straight game of the season. They are 5-7-2 overall on the season.
“We’re working our tail off to try and get it by their goal tender and we made a couple of soft plays,” second-year coach Bliss Littler said, “and the soft plays went in the net.”
You never want to let a loss have lingering effects, but that may have been the case for Wentchee, which was coming off a disheartening 4-3 shootout loss Friday against the Brown Bears.
“That was a tough one yesterday,” said Littler, whose team led 3-2 with less than a minute left in regulation before seceding a game-tying score and ultimately suffering defeat Friday.
Saturday’s rematch was less dramatic.
The Wild got off to a rough start in the first period and gave up two scores in a two-minute span to fall into a 2-0 deficit — the second goal occurring at the tail end of a Kenai River power play.
Wenatchee had several chances to climb back into contention in the second period though. It started play with a 5-on-4 advantage as a result of a late Brown Bears infraction, but couldn’t assemble an effective attack and rattled off just one shot in that span.
Undeterred, Wenatchee continued to throw the puck at the net and finally hit paydirt when David Powlowski redirected a shot by Matt Nuttle into the back of the net during a power play. Nuttle fired the puck from the top of the right circle and Powlowski took hold of the shot and put it past Kenai River’s Zach Quinn for the team’s only score of the evening. The goal cut the Brown Bear lead to 2-1 and seemed to invigorate the Wild and fans alike. But the optimism was short-lived.
Tanner Barnes got called for high sticking 20 seconds after the goal to put Wenatchee in a penalty kill scenario. Things got much worse when River Rymsha got booked for a slashing penalty, which put the team in a 5-on-3 predicament. The Brown Bears’ Tyler Andrew put one between the pipes while Wenatchee was one man short.
“That goal really hurt,” Littler said. “Our lack of experience, it really hurts in those areas, when you don’t make a team work to score against you.”
Wenatchee continued to attack and dominate the second period, but couldn’t turn the effort into points. It outshot the Brown Bears 10-5, but had little to show for its effort and went into second intermission trailing 3-1.
The Wild struggled to generate any serious scoring threats in the third period as time continued to be a factor. They drew three more penalties in the final frame, but were unable to capitalize in any of the 5-on-4 situations.
The Brown Bears’ dominant display wasn’t much of a surprise though. Boasting one of the more experienced rosters in the North American Hockey League, they lead the Midwest Division with 22 points. Falling into an early hole certainly hindered Wenatchee’s odds of an upset.
“We played catch-up hockey tonight,” Littler said. “When you’re playing catch-up hockey, that’s playing losing hockey. They (the Brown Bears) came out and showed they’re a veteran club. They played with a lot of swagger, but their first and third goals, we didn’t make them work very hard for.”
October hasn’t been a kind month for the Wild, who are fielding one of the least experienced squads in the NAHL. They haven’t sealed a victory since sweeping the Minot Minotauros during their home-opener to start the month. Fortunately, there’s still plenty of season for them to figure things out. They will get one last crack at the Brown Bears today at 5:05 p.m.
“At some point we’ll learn, we’ll get there,” Littler said. “It’s frustrating, (but) I know our fans will stay with us. But our kids are trying. The only way you get experience is by playing. You can’t just read a book on it, you have to go out and play it.”
Kenai River 4, Wenatchee 3 (Shootout)
Andre Pison and Trey Bradley both converted on their penalty shots, but Kenai River’s Nathan Colwell and Alec Butcher each sunk their shots to win the shootout 3-2.
Troy Loggins lit the lamp on a power play to tie the contest at 1-1 in the second period and David Powlowski scored once more to keep the game even at 2-2 heading into the second intermission.
Bradley scored on a power play at the 13:41 mark to give the team a 3-2 lead, but the Brown Bears scored with less than one minute left to play after pulling an attacker to force overtime.
Wenatchee outshot Kenai River 42-22 in the loss