The Kenai River Brown Bears ended their season by getting swept in Fairbanks on Friday and Saturday.
The Bears lost 7-2 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday, with both games coming in front of sellout crowds of 2,242 fans at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The wins helped the Ice Dogs, the defending Robertson Cup champions, secure home-ice advantage throughout the divisional round of the playoffs. Fairbanks (40-16-4) moves two points ahead of the Minnesota Wilderness in the battle for the top spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
The Wilderness have one game left, but a win would tie them with the Dogs at 84 points. Fairbanks, which finished 14-2 against Kenai River, has the tiebreaker because Minnesota can’t catch the Dogs in the wins column.
The Bears end the season at 16-42-2 and in last place in the league, but Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant is happy with the way the team closed the season.
“They finished on a strong note, and the mind-set could have been completely different,” Beauparlant said. “Every time a door closes a new one opens. The 94s or anybody that might not be back, they move to the next chapter. The guys that will be back, their door for this season closes, but the next door opens for the 2015-16 team.
“It stings right now because we really wanted to come in here and get a win.”
Saturday’s game featured a lot of special teams, with the Bears finishing 3 for 5 on the power play, and Fairbanks finishing 4 for 9.
“They executed and that’s what it’s all about,” Beauparlant said of his team’s three power-play goals. “They were making plays, getting pucks to the net with a good net presence.”
After Jacob Hetz got the Dogs on the board, Jack Gessert, assisted by Zack Zulkanycz and Maurin Bouvet, scored on the power play for a 1-1 game after one.
After Tyler Tomberlin scored for Fairbanks to start the second, Tyler Andrews, assisted by Zulkanycz and Bouvet, scored on the power play.
Still in the second, Jakob Stridsberg put the Dogs up 3-2 with a power-play goal, but Gustav Berglund, assisted by Gessert and Bouvet, tied the game headed into the third.
Hetz and Chandler Madry started the third with power-play goals. Colton Fletcher, assisted by Adam Kresl and Gessert, scored with 9:20 to play. Beauparlant said the Bears had one good chance with the goalie out, but couldn’t bury it.
The coach said Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz and all the 1994 birthdates had a great final game of their junior careers. He said Andrews was playing with a broken hand and Berglund had a bad hip.
East High product and University of Alaska recruit Alex Jackstadt was hurt early in the game and taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure. Beauparlant didn’t have an update on him after the game.
Evan Hauser had 37 saves for the Bears, while Kevin Aldridge had 18 for the Dogs.
Friday, the Bears got just the start they needed when Tanner Schachle got the puck out of the zone to Cameron Cook, who found Nick Klishko out front for a 1-0 game with 17 minutes, 36 seconds, left in the first period.
But Adam Anderson scored just 16 seconds later to knot the game for the Ice Dogs. Hetz and Jesper Ohrvall added goals for Fairbanks before the end of the first.
Kenai River goalie Alec Derks was then pulled after making 13 saves on 16 shots.
“He wasn’t solid so we made the switch,” Beauparlant said.
The Bears fought their way back to 3-2 with 10:09 left in the second period, when Joey Kaszupski got the puck to Gessert coming over the line. Gessert put the puck on net and Matt Rudin pounded in the rebound.
“He’s been solid for a good month starting with the road trip,” Beauparlant said of Rudin. “He’s had good presence and he’s playing with energy.”
But again the Bears gave up a goal on the next shift, as Hans Gorowsky scored 50 seconds later to move the lead to 4-2.
“When they scored again on the next shift it killed all of our momentum against a good hockey club,” Beauparlant said. “That’s a lesson for the younger guys to learn — how important that shift is.”
From there, Adam Wilcox scored late in the second and Madry and Tomberlin tacked on third-period goals to polish off the Bears.
Hauser came on for Kenai River to make 24 saves on 28 shots, while Aldridge made 25 saves for the Ice Dogs.
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
Fairbanks 3 2 2 —7
First period — 1. Kenai River, Klishko (Cook, Schachle), 2:24; 2. Fairbanks, Anderson (un.), 2:40; 3. Fairbanks, Hetz (Clary), 18:27; 4. Fairbanks, Ohrvall (R. Gorowsky), pp, 19:11. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 16:00; Fairbanks 4 for 12:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Rudin (Kaszupski, Gessert), 9:51; 6. Fairbanks, H. Gorowsky (Somoza, Zimmerman), 10:41; 7. Fairbanks, Wilcox (un.), sh, 19:09. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 8. Fairbanks, Madry (Ohrvall, Mueller), pp, 6:25; 9. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (Mueller, Cahill), 6:46. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 23:00; Fairbanks 4 for 19:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-9-11—27; Fairbanks 16-11-17—44.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (16 shots, 13 saves), Hauser (28 shots, 24 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (27 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 6; Fairbanks 2 for 8.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 4
Kenai River 1 2 1 —4
Fairbanks 1 2 2 —5
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Hetz (Madry, Mueller), pp, 8:39; 2. Kenai River, Gessert (Zulkanycz, Bouvet), pp, 12:25. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (un.), 3:34; 4. Kenai River, Andrews (Zulkanycz, Bouvet), pp, 10:50; 5. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (Teets, H. Gorowsky), pp, 13:01; 6. Kenai River, Berglund (Gessert, Bouvet), pp, 16:31. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 7. Fairbanks, Hetz (Ohrvall, R. Gorowsky), pp, 3:31; 8. Fairbanks, Madry (un.), pp, 6:30; 9. Kenai River, Fletcher (Kresl, Gessert), 10:40. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 9-6-7—22; Fairbanks 15-18-9—42.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (40 shots, 37 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (22 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 3 for 5; Fairbanks 4 for 9.