The Minot Minotauros played penalty-free into the third period, but their first - and only - infraction of the game proved costly.
A cross-checking penalty assessed to Minot's Tanner Holmquist with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third period led to Kenai River's game-winning goal less than a minute later.
Alec Butcher struck with 7:53 left as the Brown Bears defeated the Tauros 4-3 on Wednesday at Maysa Arena. Kenai River (Alaska) scored the game's final three goals to complete the series sweep. The Brown Bears recorded just two shots in the final 20 minutes.
Minot’s Tim Donohue skates in on net against Kenai River goaltender Kris Oldham on Wednesday at Maysa Arena. Also pictured: Kenai River’s Jacob Davidson.
"We take a terrible, selfish penalty in the third period and it's game over," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "It's a fine line in our league between winning and losing. When guys aren't looking out for the team first that's what happens."
The Tauros (14-18-3) flirted with disaster at certain moments of the first period, but were bailed out by goaltender Merrick Madsen and the referees. Madsen stonewalled a breakaway attempt by Kenai River's Zack Zulkanycz after he got behind Minot's defensemen at center ice. The Brown Bears appeared to have scored with 9:41 left in the first period, but the referees whistled the play dead before the puck slid past the goal line.
After almost a full period of scoring opportunities, Kenai River (17-14-3) broke through with just 11 seconds left in the opening frame. Albin Karlsson beat Madsen top shelf after collecting the rebound in front of the net from Vincent Stefan's initial shot. Karlsson waited for Madsen to commit low before lifting the puck over the sprawling 6-foot-4 goaltender.
The Tauros recorded just four shots in the first 20 minutes, most coming three
minutes into the game during their only power play of the first period.
In a span of 10 minutes, Minot went from trailing by a goal to leading by two. The Tauros tied the game at 3:28 of the second period when the puck ricocheted off the skate of Kenai River's Jake Bushey and into the back of the Brown Bears net. Kenai River goaltender Kris Oldham tried to freeze the rolling puck, but it popped out in front of a number of bodies crashing the net and Bushey's skate was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Minot's Jadin Martin was credited with the goal.
The Tauros took their first lead of the contest less than two minutes later on the power play when Max Pernhem blasted a shot from the point past Oldham.
"We were winning races and our compete level was strong," Murray said. "We got some breaks, but I thought we made our breaks, too. That's the way our team needs to be. We're not a tic-tac-toe backdoor team. We're a hard-working, in-you-face team, and when we're on, we're a decent team."
Moments after Madsen stopped a point-blank shot from Butcher, Minot scored its third unanswered goal of the second period. Jake McCann scored on a sharp-angle shot to the right of Oldham. McCann had little room to work with, but squeezed a wrist shot between the stick-side pads of the Kenai River goaltender.
"I just turned around and shot it and luckily it took a nice bounce for me and it went in," McCann said.
The Brown Bears responded, tying the game before the second intermission. Conor Deal brought Kenai River within one while shorthanded with a slap shot that deflected off the post over Madsen's stick-side shoulder.
"It's kind of been our attitude the whole year to never say die and the resiliency we continue to show is a good character builder for our hockey club," Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said.
Jacob Davidson scored at 14:52 of the second period to draw even.
"It's a matter of being composed and keeping your brain," Murray said of squandering late leads. "We've kind of shut our brains off, whether it be bad penalties as of late or missed assignments. It's natural as the game progresses to get tired and fatigued, but the other team is going through the same thing and it's no excuse shut your brain off and make irresponsible plays."
The Tauros travel to play Austin (Minn.) on Jan. 10.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.