The visiting Kenai River Brown Bears split with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Friday and Saturday in North American Hockey League play, winning 6-5 in a shootout Friday before falling 7-2 on Saturday.
The Bears are now 22-22-1-1, while the Ice Dogs are 23-19-2-2. The last two games of the regular season for both playoff-qualified teams are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The teams go into that series locked at 1-1 in the Alaska Airlines Cup.
Josh Dubinsky, interim head coach, said Friday the team continued to impress in the wake of the departure of head coach Kevin Murdock. Dubinsky said the team learned of Murdock’s departure about two hours before a 3-2 overtime victory over Janesville on May 1.
“I was super proud of how the guys responded,” Dubinsky said. “They were told about the situation about two hours before the game. That’s a lot to throw at you, especially when you’re playing a team like Janesville.
“They played what I think is one of their best games of the year.”
The Bears kept rolling in Friday’s first period.
Kenai River started fast, taking a 4-0 lead after the first period. Peter Morgan, Brandon McNamara, Jake Veri and Gramm McCormack all struck in the first 20 minutes for the Bears.
“The biggest thing is we just buried our chances,” Dubinsky said. “I don’t think we necessarily played our best period of the year. It was a back-and-forth type period, but we buried our chances.”
Dubinsky said Nathan Dickey, an affiliate goalie with a 2003 birth year, was great in the first period and kept the score from being 4-4.
In the second period, the Bears ran into penalty trouble — getting whistled for five penalties to two for Fairbanks — and the script quickly flipped.
The attendance in the Big Dipper, which seats just over 2,000, was listed at 971. Dubinsky said the Bears haven’t experienced an environment like that all season and got a little bit overwhelmed when Fairbanks got rolling in the second.
Laker Aldridge, Jake Hale and Cam Ricotta had the Ice Dogs within 4-3 headed to the third period.
Kenai River got a power-play goal from Daymin Dodge 50 seconds into the third period. Dubinsky said the Bears talked about how important that power play was in the locker room and he said that goal was big for restoring some momentum.
Jack Ring came back with a goal for Fairbanks less than a minute later, but then Dubinsky said the Bears settled in and played well. Nathan Butler scored for the Ice Dogs with 3:26 to play to put the game in overtime. Dubinsky said the Bears had most of the possession in overtime and had some good chances.
The interim head coach said that was impressive because Kenai River had a long day of travel before the game, leaving the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at 4 a.m. Friday.
After a scoreless overtime, Dickey stopped all three Ice Dogs shooters in the shootout. All it took was a goal from Morgan Winters to record the victory.
Dickey had 51 saves for the Bears, while Ryan Keyes stopped 28 for the Ice Dogs.
“For him to come in and play like that in that building, getting over 50 saves, is impressive,” Dubinsky said. “He is the reason we won that game.”
Lucas Wahlin and Jake Veri sustained upper body injuries in the Friday game and Dubinsky said he hopes they will be back sooner rather than later.
Saturday, Fairbanks led 3-0 after the first period and 4-0 in the second before Anchorage’s Max Helgeson scored, assisted by Winters and Laudon Poellinger. Fairbanks led 6-1 in the third when Eagle River’s Brandon Lajoie scored, assisted by Anchorage’s Ryan Reid and Peter Morgan.
Dickey made 22 saves on 27 shots, while Luke Pavicich came on in relief for 19 saves on 20 shots. Kayden Hargraves stopped 25 for the Ice Dogs.
Brown Bears 6, Ice Dogs 5
Kenai River 4 0 1 0 1 —5
Fairbanks 0 3 2 0 0 —5
First period — 1. Kenai River, Morgan (Dodge, Wahlin), 5:55; 2. Kenai River, McNamara (Dubicki, Lajoie), 7:43; 3. Kenai River, Veri (Winters, Thrun), 8:56; 4. Kenai River, McCormack (Tomlinson, Vieten), 17:33. Penalties — none.
Second period — 5. Fairbanks, Aldridge (Plante, Miles), pp, 3:53; 6. Fairbanks, Hale (Garby, Ring), 12:54; 7. Fairbanks, Ricotta (Murray, Garby), 17:56. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 10:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 8. Kenai River, Dodge (Reid, Wahlin), pp, 0:50; 9. Fairbanks, Ring (Garby, Neuharth), 1:27; 10. Fairbanks, Butler (Murray, Ricotta), 16:34. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 1 (Lajoie NG, Winters G, McNamara NG); Fairbanks 0 (Becker NG, Plante NG, Link NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 15-6-9-3—33; Fairbanks 14-24-16-2—56.
Goalies — Kenai River, Dickey (56 shots, 51 saves); Fairbanks, Keyes (33 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Fairbanks 1 for 5.