Friday, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs wasted little time in reasserting their dominance in the rivalry with the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in the first matchup of the teams this season, notching a 7-1 victory.
Saturday, the Brown Bears battled right back with a 2-1 North American Hockey League overtime victory over Fairbanks to even the Ravn Cup — the seasonlong battle between the two teams — at 1-1.
“I love this team,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said after the victory. “There’s a lot of character, a lot of talent and a lot of buy-in in the locker room.
“We’re young and inexperienced. I’d bet we have one of the lowest totals for numbers of games in the league. We’re going to have our ups and downs, but it was a 20-man effort tonight and it was a really fun thing to be a part of.”
The Ice Dogs are now 9-4-1-2, good for second place in the Midwest Division. The Bears are 7-9-1-0 and are in fifth in the Midwest. Kenai River hosts the Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
After losing the battle on special teams on Friday, the Bears won that battle Saturday to key the victory.
“The team that wins the special teams battle probably has a 75 percent change of winning the game,” Petrich said. “The goal-scoring five-on-five most nights is really tight. It’s a well-coached league.”
After Fairbanks took a 1-0 lead with 17:59 left in the game on a goal by Anchorage’s Daniel Haider. Luke Radetic, on assists from Eagle River’s Cameron McDonald and Gabriel Wahl, tied things up with 3:19 to play.
“Actually, I was not in love with our power play most of the game but we got one at the end to tie it up,” Petrich said. “Luke Radetic has been a really good player for us. He’s done everything we’ve expected and more.”
With just four seconds left in the game, Wahl was whistled for high-sticking. That meant the Brown Bears were on the four-on-three penalty kill for the first 1:56 of overtime.
“David Kaplan, Preston Weeks, everyone else who played in the rotation probably blocked six or seven shots when it was all said and done,” Petrich said. “They sacrificed for the team and it was a huge step in the right direction.”
Then 2:06 into the three-on-three overtime, Fairbanks captain Nolan Schaeffer was called for tripping. Just 11 seconds later, Wahl scored on assists from McDonald and Radetic to end the game.
“To be honest, four-on-three is something we really don’t prepare for,” Petrich said. “We went by the seat of our pants and drew it up and they were able to execute.”
Logan Neaton had 14 saves for the Ice Dogs, while Gavin Enright made 32 for Kenai River. Petrich said Enright was given the game puck, then Enright turned around and gave the puck to the penalty kill for keying the victory on the final night of military appreciation weekend.
“We’d like to thank all of the military,” Petrich said. “That was a pretty special piece to add to tonight.”
Friday, Samuel Ruffin scored just 20 seconds into the game and Robert Blueger lit the lamp a little over two minutes later and Fairbanks was off and running on a 7-1 victory.
With the Ice Dogs in town and the Army helping put on military appreciation weekend, Kenai River assistant Nick Sova said the Bears may have been a little too charged up.
“You can’t overfocus on games,” Sova said. “When you do extra things because you are superhyped up, it ends up hurting you.”
The Ice Dogs also received goals from Wasilla’s Tanner Schachle and Hunter Wendt for a 4-0 lead before the first period was out. The Bears were outshot 22-3 in the frame.
Sova said the team failed at doing the little things like blocking shots, staying in lanes, and doing a job and not trying to do somebody else’s job as well.
Starting goalie Artur Pavliukov was out of the game with four goals on his record at the 2:08 mark of the first period.
“It was a little bit of a wakeup call for our players,” Sova said of pulling Pavliukov for Enright. “You never want to take the goalie out so early, but it was to get the guys revved up and going again.”
The affair got more equal in the second and third periods, with Fairbanks outscoring Kenai River 3-1 and outshooting the Bears 19-14.
“It was closer than a 7-1 game,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “The puck was going in for us and our goalie was good when he had to be.
“He kept the puck out of the net at key times and that was probably discouraging for them.”
Ice Dogs goalie Josh Benson had 16 saves, while Pavliukov and Enright combined for 34.
Kenai River’s lone strike came in the second period, when Alex Klekotka cut the score to 4-1 on assists from Markuss Komuls and Connor Fedorek. Nolan Schaeffer, Erkka Vanska and Jack Johnson closed the scoring for Fairbanks.
Coming into the game, Kenai River had the top power play in the league while Fairbanks had the top penalty kill. But the Ice Dogs dominated special teams, finishing 2 for 5 with the extra man, while the Bears were 0 for 5 and had trouble setting up in the Ice Dogs’ zone.
“Our guys did a good job, for the most part, staying in lanes,” Stewart said. “We have to be ready for any changes they make.”
The Ice Dogs coach also was happy with the grit his team showed, getting many of the goals on tips and rebounds. The seven goals was a season high.
“That’s something we’ve been struggling with — scoring — so we’ve got to get them how we can,” Stewart said.
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 4 1 2 — 7
Kenai River 0 1 0 — 1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Ruffin (Schaeffer), 0:20; 2. Fairbanks, Blueger (Willets, Murray), 2:54; 3. Fairbanks, Schachle (Vanska, Mayhew), pp, 17:04; 4. Fairbanks, Wendt (Haider, Murray), 17:52. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Klekotka (Komuls, Fedorek), 10:10; 6. Fairbanks, Schaeffer (Wilson, Ruffin), 19:16. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Fairbanks, Vanska (Mayhew, Stampohar), pp, 10:50; 8. Fairbanks, Johnston (Borgida, Willets), 16:55. Penalties — Fairbanks 7 for 27:00; Kenai River 5 for 23:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 22-10-9—41; Kenai River 3-7-7—17.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Benson (17 shots, 16 saves); Kenai River, Pavliukov (18 shots, 14 saves), Enright (24 shots, 20 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 2 for 5, Kenai River 0 for 5.
Brown Bears 2, Ice Dogs 1
Fairbanks 0 0 1 0 — 1
Kenai River 0 0 1 1 — 2
First period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 1. Fairbanks, Haider (Stampohar, Murray), 2:01; 2. Kenai River, Radetic (C. McDonald, Wahl), pp, 16:41. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Overtime — 3. Kenai River, Wahl (C. McDonald, Radetic), pp, 2:17. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.