Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Noah Wood and Kenai River Brown Bears forward Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard battle for the puck Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Noah Wood and Kenai River Brown Bears forward Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard battle for the puck Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears sweep Ice Dogs, move into 3rd place

The Kenai River Brown Bears earned a two-game sweep over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs with a 3-2 shootout victory Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League action.

“It’s huge,” said Kenai River forward Hayden Walters, who had a goal in the game. “We needed those points to stay in the playoff push.”

With the sweep, the Bears moved into third place in the Midwest Division. The Wisconsin Windigo, with 71 points, have already clinched a playoff spot, while the Minnesota Wilderness, with 69 points, are a near lock to do so.

The battle for the final two playoff spots is looking more and more like a battle between four teams.

The Bears (29-22-2-1) are in third with 61 points and six games left, the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel are in fourth with 60 points and seven games left, the Ice Dogs (26-23-6-1) are in fifth with 59 points and four games left, and the Anchorage Wolverines are in sixth with 57 points and seven games left.

In such a tight playoff race, the Bears earned a big point by winning the shootout. Kenai River’s Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard beat Kayden Hargraves in the shootout, and Kenai River’s Nils Wallstrom stopped all three Fairbanks shooters.

“The extra point, as much as the shootout there at the end maybe seems like a ploy for the fans, that extra point is going to end up mattering here,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said.

The Ice Dogs have traditionally gotten the better of the Bears in their rivalry, but Kenai River has used a hot streak against Fairbanks to make a playoff push.

The Bears are now 5-3-0-2 against Fairbanks this season, and have earned 11 points in their last six games against the Ice Dogs, including two straight sweeps against Fairbanks. Kenai River now has 17 points in its last 11 games, while the Ice Dogs have six points in their last 11 games.

The Club 49 Cup stands at 28 for Anchorage, 24 for Fairbanks and 18 for the Brown Bears.

The rivalry keeps right on cooking when the Bears travel to Fairbanks for 7:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.

“Unfortunately, we’ve put ourselves in a position where our backs are against the wall,” Fairbanks assistant coach Dakota Bell said. “We responded well tonight when adversity hit.

“I’m sure it’s going to be rocking in the Dipper on Friday and Saturday, but we’ve got to make sure, again, to keep emotional balance because it’s so important.”

The Midwest Division standings have been so tight that Shaw has been saying since about 17 games remained that every game is a playoff game. The first two periods and the first half of the third period showed these are two teams already used to playoff hockey.

“It was a pretty tight game,” Shaw said. “Not a lot of power plays or special teams for either side.”

Both teams earned just one power play and did not score on it. The most excitement for the mostly full sports complex came with 17:21 left in the second period, when the referee didn’t see that Hargraves had failed to control the puck and blew the whistle, negating a tap-in by Walters.

“We’ve just got to keep pushing through everything. Battle adversity,” Walters said. “It doesn’t really matter if he waives that off. We’ve just got to keep playing the game.”

The game took awhile to come to a boil, but finally did with 12:56 remaining, when Walters got a nice pass from Garett Drotts and put the Bears up 1-0. Shaw said Walters had a nice weekend for the Bears, showing the pace and heaviness to his game that makes him so dynamic.

“Once one goes in, the energy starts building up and it’s like, ‘OK. Now I have to take that chance that I wouldn’t have earlier,’” Bell said.

With 3:19 left, Tyler Herzberg took one of those chances from the slot and tied it. Shaw said Fairbanks does a nice job on the cycle of getting five guys flowing in the offensive zone.

“We lost a guy in there, but I like our guys response to go back and get one back,” Shaw said.

Just 21 seconds later, Jacob Zwirecki let one fly from the point and the puck found its way through a ton of traffic and into the net. Jack Anderson and Bryce Monrean had assists.

“I thought our guys responded really well,” Bell said. “We haven’t done that at times, but tonight, in a good, close game in a tough barn to play in, I thought we did a good job with that.”

Just 25 seconds after Zwirecki’s strike, the Ice Dogs’ Joey Potter brought the puck down the ice and snapped one past Wallstrom.

“I think that’s probably one Nils wishes he could have back and he’d be the first one to tell you that,” Shaw said.

The coach said what was important was the way Wallstrom responded, with several big saves in overtime, then three tough saves to win the shootout.

“He’s one heck of a goalie,” Walters said. “He puts us on his shoulders and carries us through battles.”

Bell had no problem with the moves put on by Brady Welsch, Julian Recine and Billy Renfrew in the shootout.

“I liked our guys and what they did,” Bell said. “Their goalie made some unbelievable saves. Some NHL-like, highlight-quality saves. Hats off to him.”

Wallstrom had 29 saves in the game, while Hargraves had 39.

Saturday

Brown Bears 3, Ice Dogs 2, SO

Fairbanks 0 0 2 0 0 —2

Kenai River 0 0 2 0 1 —3

First period — none. Penalties — none.

Second period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.

Third period — 1. Kenai River, Walters (Drotts), 7:04; 2. Fairbanks, Herzberg (Welsch, Berry), 16:41; 3. Kenai River, Zwirecki (J. Anderson, Monrean), 17:02; 4. Fairbanks, Potter (Herzberg, Biraben), 17:27. Penalties — none.

Overtime — none. Penalties — none.

Shootout — Fairbanks 0 (Welsch NG, Recine NG, Renfrew NG); Kenai River 1 (Conradsson Kelvgaard G, Lockwood NG).

Shots on goal — Fairbanks 12-8-11-0—31; Kenai River 10-18-13-0—41.

Goalies — Fairbanks, Hargraves (41 shots, 39 saves); Kenai River, Wallstrom (31 shots, 29 saves).

Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 1.

Fairbanks Ice Dogs defenseman Joey Potter pokes the puck away from Kenai River Brown Bears forward Garett Drotts on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminak/Peninsula Clarion)

Fairbanks Ice Dogs defenseman Joey Potter pokes the puck away from Kenai River Brown Bears forward Garett Drotts on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminak/Peninsula Clarion)

Fairbanks Ice Dogs goalie Kayden Hargraves makes a save on Kenai River Brown Bears forward Owen Hanson on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Fairbanks Ice Dogs goalie Kayden Hargraves makes a save on Kenai River Brown Bears forward Owen Hanson on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Taylor Shaw argues a call Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Taylor Shaw argues a call Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Nils Wallstrom celebrates winning a shootout over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Nils Wallstrom celebrates winning a shootout over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Hayden Walters celebrates a goal Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Hayden Walters celebrates a goal Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

A sign warning of a June 28, 2021, bear attack is placed at the head of the Kenai River Trail on Skilak Loop Road in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Federal wildlife officers seek information about early-May black bear poaching

Officials think the poaching happened near the east entrance of Skilak Loop roughly 2 miles from Jims’ Landing

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Ninilchik woman dead after Tuesday collision

The woman was attempting to cross the Sterling Highway from Oil Well Road when she was struck by a pickup truck

Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Graduates listen to Connections Homeschool Principal Doug Hayman speak during the school’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Expect a lot from yourself and from others’

Connections Homeschool students accept diplomas at commencement ceremony

Screenshot
Graduates of Seward High School leave the gym at the end of their graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
‘Give people something to talk about’

Seward High School graduates 30

Kenai Police Chief David Ross speaks to Kenai City Council members about an ordinance that would repeal sections of city code that prohibit public sleeping and loitering and the city’s curfew on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai OKs repeal of loitering laws, curfew for minors

The policies, first enacted in 1978, are difficult to enforce and potentially violate citizens’ rights, according to the Kenai Police Department

Nikiski Middle/High School graduates throw their caps into the air at the conclusion of a graduation ceremony in the school’s gym in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Nikiski graduates ‘will always be a part of each other’s stories’

The graduates celebrated their time together and took a moment to anticipate the bright futures that lie ahead

A seal pup rescued from near Kenai beach is treated by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program on May 9, 2024. (Photo courtesy Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)
SeaLife Center admits abandoned harbor seal pups

Both seals were found abandoned and malnourished, and both were born prematurely

Caitlin Babcock, left, and other graduates enter Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna sends off more than 140 graduates at Tuesday commencement

More than 140 students stepped off the Soldotna High School graduation stage… Continue reading

Most Read