Bears top Dogs, move into 4th place

The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 4-3 on Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to move into fourth place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.

The Bears improved to 28-22-2-1 to move past the Ice Dogs (26-23-6-0) into fourth place and the final playoff spot out of the division. The Ice Dogs have five games left to play, while the Bears have seven games left to play.

The Wisconsin Windigo lead the division with 71 points, while the Minnesota Wilderness have 67, the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel have 60, the Bears have 59, the Ice Dogs have 58, the Anchorage Wolverines have 55, the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets have 53 and the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues have 48.

“It’s really easy to get lost in the big picture right now, but for us it’s one game at a time, one day at a time,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “We can only control what we can control.”

The Brown Bears improve to 4-3-0-2 this season against Fairbanks, including racking up nine points in the last five games vs. the Ice Dogs. Kenai River now has 15 points in its last 10 games, while the Ice Dogs have five points in their last 10 games.

In the Club 49 Cup, Anchorage has 28, the Ice Dogs have 23 and the Brown Bears have 16.

The two teams play again tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the sports complex.

“It’s been playoff games in our eyes, it’s something we started talking about with 17 games left,” Shaw said. “It’s a big win but it’s hard to enjoy it.

“Maybe when the season is over and it’s June.”

After having last weekend off, the Bears didn’t take much time to get going, scoring two goals in the first 1:06. They came from Hunter Newhouse, assisted by Ryan Finch and Bryce Monrean, and Noah Holt, assisted by Jacob Zwirecki and Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard.

However, Mac Gadowsky and Tyler Herzberg had it all square by the end of the first.

“Both of the first two goals came on tip-ins,” Shaw said. “They were errors on our part. We got a little too offensive and cheated the game, in a sense. We weren’t focused on the details that gave us two goals right away.”

Midway through the second, Colin Goff put Fairbanks up 3-2, but Garett Drotts, assisted by Kotaro Tsutsumi and Jack Anderson, answered just 23 seconds later.

Shaw said his squad did a good job managing the game. He said Fairbanks is a good hockey club and pushed hard at different points in the game, but the Bears did a good job weathering the storm and pushing back.

The coach said his team remained steadfast in the third period. Hayden Walters had the game-winner with 4:15 left, assisted by Holt.

“The consistent message down the bench when we scored was to keep a level head and there was a lot of game left,” Shaw said. “The guys did a good job of staying even-keeled and working. They found a way to get pucks out.”

Nils Wallstrom had 32 saves for Kenai River, while Kayden Hargraves stopped 30 for the Ice Dogs.

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