On a Friday evening which saw the Kenai River Brown Bears take a 5-2 lead into the third period and furiously hold on for a 6-4 North American Hockey League victory over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, Bears forward Laudon Poellinger summed up what matters.
“We had a couple bad bounces and a couple things we need to work on,” said Poellinger, who like Eagle River’s Brandon Lajoie had two goals and an assist to key the victory. “Every team has things they need to work on.
“The big thing is winners win and we won.”
Kenai River pushed its winning streak to nine by scoring more than four goals in a game for the 10th straight outing. The Bears stood at second in the league in goals after Friday’s game.
Kenai River (16-5-1-2) also stretched its lead over Fairbanks (14-8-0-1) for the Midwest Division lead to six points and is tied for second best record in the league.
In front of a big and boisterous crowd, Lajoie got things going about three minutes into the game by scoring on an assist from Poellinger and starting a big evening for that wing pairing.
“To be honest, as of lately we’ve both kind of been struggling,” Poellinger said of he and Lajoie. “We got everything together and hit our stride.”
After Trenton Woods answered for Fairbanks, Porter Schachle celebrated his birthday and continued recent torrid play by scoring with 12:44 left in the first. Schachle now has seven goals and six assists in his last seven games.
In the next minute came two events which would impact the rest of the game. First, the Ice Dogs had a goal called off because the referees ruled the puck was kicked in the net. Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said he saw a kicking motion from the bench, but his player said the puck had hit his stick before going in.
“He was pretty adamant about it and he’s not the type of kid that will lie about that, but it’s easy to see why the ref called what he did,” Stewart said.
Then, Schachle and the Ice Dogs’ Andrew Garby got in a long fight, and Schachle received a game misconduct because his sweater was not buckled to the back of his shorts by the end of the fight.
That forced Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock to juggle lines the rest of the night, a task made more difficult by the fact that the Bears were playing the fifth of a six-game stretch in 10 days.
Murdock said his squad adjusted just fine, proven by the fact the Bears took a 5-1 lead with 9:44 left in the second period. Poellinger had two of those goals, while Trey LaBarge added the other.
“They’re a confident group right now,” Stewart said of the Bears, adding that it didn’t help that his team took five penalties to the one of Kenai River in the second period and faced two 5-on-3 power plays. “They’re getting timely goal scoring. We had just as many chances, if not more.”
The Ice Dogs, who lost the official shot count 44-42, really started to crank up the chances after Stewart called timeout with 9:44 left in the second and pulled goalie Austin Ryman (19 shots, 14 saves) in favor of Mattias Sholl (24 shots, 24 saves). Stewart said the switch was more of a comment on his defense hanging Ryman out to dry as it was on the goalie himself.
“I thought we played really well for the first period and a half,” Murdock said. “They called timeout and really turned it on.”
Oliver Kjaer, Parker Brown and Matt Koethe scored and the Ice Dogs were down 5-4 with 11:50 left.
“I was pretty confident when we cut the lead to one goal with over 10 minutes left,” Stewart said. “I felt like we had good puck possession and we were creating a lot of good chances on net.”
Murdock said Fairbanks came hard but credited his team.
“Ultimately, we were the team that weathered the storm,” he said. “A couple little mistakes made things closer than it could have been.”
With 3:32 left, a referee was hit in the face with a puck, causing a delay of about six minutes. While that gave the Bears a chance to regroup, Murdock pointed out the bloody incident happened right in front of the Bears bench and he worried about players being distracted by that. Both coaches said it was impossible to say if the delay affected the game.
One player who definitely affected the game was Kenai River goalie Landon Pavlisin, who made 38 saves and is on a nine-game winning streak himself.
“He’s unbelievable. That’s the only way to put it,” Poellinger said of his goalie. “He shows up every night. If we struggle as we did in the third period, he keeps us in the game.”
Lajoie had an empty-netter with 1:08 to play to ice the game.
Brown Bears 6, Ice Dogs 4
Fairbanks 1 1 2 — 4
Kenai River 3 2 1 — 6
First period — 1. Kenai River, Lajoie (Poellinger, Weeks), 2:58; 2. Fairbanks, Woods (Deweese, Benz), 6:51; 3. Kenai River, Schachle (Morgan, Reid), 7:16; 4. Kenai River, Poellinger (Lajoie, Hadfield), 15:24. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 15:00; Kenai River 4 for 19:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, LaBarge (Morgan, Weeks), pp, 7:59; 6. Kenai River, Poellinger (Helgeson, Hadfield), 10:16; 7. Fairbanks, Kjaer (Abbott, Brown), pp, 13:48. Penalties — Fairbanks 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 8. Fairbanks, Brown (Kjaer, Plante), 6:48; 9. Fairbanks, Koethe (un.), 8:10; 10. Kenai River, Lajoie (Krajnik, McCollum), en, 18:52. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 13-15-14—42; Kenai River 14-21-9—44.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Ryman (19 shots, 14 saves), Sholl (24 shots, 24 saves).