Brown Bears, Ice Dogs ready for Game 3

Less than 72 hours after a bruising overtime contest in Fairbanks, the Kenai River Brown Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs commence a de facto best-of-three playoff series tonight at 7 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

“The time for teaching is done,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said.

The playoffs are all about testing and resting.

Fairbanks, the regular-season champs in the North American Hockey League, got the jump in the first-round series Friday with a 3-0 victory, the Ice Dogs’ 14th in 17 tries against the Bears this season.

But Kenai River, the fourth seed out of the Midwest Division, snapped a three-game skid to the Ice Dogs with a 3-2 overtime win Saturday. Alec Butcher, the NAHL’s regular-season scoring champ, completed his hat trick with the game-winner 11 minutes, 15 seconds, into the 20-minute overtime period.

So just like the Bears did last season in an eventual five-game, first-round loss to the Ice Dogs, Kenai River gave itself a chance by winning one of the two opening games in Fairbanks.

“It would have been tough,” Beauparlant said of the prospect of digging out of an 0-2 hole. “We knew at a minimum we had to get at least one. It’s a tough place to play at any point of the season, especially the playoffs.

“But now our focus has to be on Game 3.”

The Ice Dogs have only lost two straight games four times this season, and have yet to drop two straight to the Bears.

With Fairbanks’ track record of speedy recoveries, Beauparlant knows there is only one thing his squad can do.

“We need to play like we did Saturday night,” he said. “We need to play a good, smart hockey game and use the energy from our fans to create momentum.

“We need to make sure we stay focused on what we are trying to do and not get away from the game plan.”

A particular challenge is staying the course no matter what happens on the scoreboard. Scoring first has been a leading indicator between the Bears and Dogs this season.

In the regular season, Fairbanks was 11-0 when scoring first against Kenai River, and 33-5 when scoring first overall. Kenai River was 3-1-1 when scoring first against the Ice Dogs, and 20-3-4 when striking first overall.

The Ice Dogs scored first in Friday’s game, while the Brown Bears drew first blood Saturday.

Beauparlant said that whether his team scores or is scored upon, that can’t change the approach. While scoring creates momentum, it can sometimes go the other way, like on Saturday when Butcher scored for a 2-1 lead just 1:01 after Fairbanks’ Wyatt Ege tied the game.

“We can’t let it affect us either way,” Beauparlant said.

The Bears, 0-5 all-time in playoff series and 0-4 against the Ice Dogs, came away with the weekend split despite getting goals from only one player — Butcher.

“Our best players have to be our best players to succeed in the playoffs, and that’s true at any time,” Beauparlant said. “But it wasn’t just Alec.”

The coach said the penalty kill was very good. Fairbanks had a hot power play coming into the playoffs and scored on its first try with the man advantage Friday, but then came up empty in its next seven attempts. Meanwhile, Butcher’s game-winner Saturday came on the power play.

“He wasn’t the only one getting chances,” Beauparlant said. “That’s the good part.”

Beauparlant said that none of his players are injured to the point that they will not be available today.

Tayler Munson, Fairbanks’ leading scorer in the regular season, left Saturday’s game with an injury, but his status is not known for tonight.

“We have to prepare assuming everybody is going to play,” Beauparlant said.

The Brown Bears are encouraging fans to wear white for a “whiteout,” and the first 1,000 fans in the door get a rally towel.

Game 4 of the series will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the sports complex, while Game 5, if necessary, will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Fairbanks.

The winner of the series plays the winner of the series between the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild and Minnesota Wilderness. The Wild lead the series 2-1 and host the final games of the series Friday and, if necessary, Saturday.

More in Sports

Chugiak’s Tyler Huffer stiff-arms Soldotna’s Hudson Metcalf during a scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
4 SoHi players to join college programs

A 2020 Soldotna High graduate class that was a key part of… Continue reading

(Photo provided)
Tangled Up in Blue: Blunt cuts

I cut my own hair last night. After months of new coronavirus… Continue reading

Refuge Notebook: The roles of morels

While people have been taking advantage of the abundance of morels following… Continue reading

The Kenai River can be seen from the Funny River Campground on Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Funny River, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Area fishing guides hit hard by pandemic

“If the quarantine doesn’t come off pretty soon, I think we’ll just be out of luck this year.”

Tri-The-Kenai may be gone for good

The 10th running of the event this year would have been June 14.

Klaiches step away from Nikolaevsk basketball

Steve Klaich is retiring after teaching in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for 32 years.

Post 20 first baseman Seth Adkins tags out Axel Shanks of Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300 on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. Twins pitcher Mose Hayes picked off Shanks. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Peninsula will have high school summer baseball

There will be high school baseball this summer. Only it will have… Continue reading

A morel mushroom grows in disturbed gravel on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: USFWS)
Out of the Office: Morels surge confidence

I’m writing this in the car on the drive to Anchorage. My… Continue reading

Refuge Notebook: Spruce beetles 2020

Spruce beetles are at it again. I am sad to see large… Continue reading

Most Read