The Kenai River Brown Bears got their final weekend of North American Hockey League play off to a slow start, dropping a 3-1 tilt to their northern rival Ice Dogs in Fairbanks’ Big Dipper Ice Arena.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re mailing it home with just two games remaining.
“The attitude is still remaining really focused and positive,” said interim head coach Dan Bogdan. “They’re not packing it in by any means. We’re excited to have the chance to play again tomorrow. We’re waking up tomorrow focused and ready to play.”
The Ice Dogs scored in all three periods of action to back up a sterling defensive effort. Fairbanks held Kenai River to 20 shots on goal and netminder Mattias Sholl earned the win with 19 saves. Overall, Fairbanks outshot Kenai River 40-20.
Brown Bears goalie Gavin Enright stopped 37 shots of 40. Latvian product Lukass Sicevs tallied the lone goal of the night for Kenai River, his first with the team since arriving in February.
Fairbanks leads the season series 8-2, having already clinched the Ravn Cup for season superiority between the two Alaska rivals. The Brown Bears drop to 22-30-3-3 and remain fifth out of six teams in the NAHL Midwest Division. The Bears have lost four of the last five.
While buoyed by the team’s spirit, Bogdan said the Brown Bears struggled to create scoring opportunities on offense, something that hasn’t been much of a problem lately.
“We didn’t do our job getting to the dirty areas,” Bogdan said. “We were struggling to get grade A chances at the net, and we are usually good at getting a lot of those shots but we just didn’t have a good shot selection.”
Fairbanks came out hot, outshooting Kenai River 14-3 in the first period, including a scoring strike from Matt Koethe with 34 seconds left to the intermission. Bogdan called it the only “legitimate” goal the Ice Dogs had.
“It was a 2-on-1 rush that (Koethe) put home on a one-timer,” he said.
It wasn’t long out of the break before Fairbanks pushed the lead to 2-0 as John Stampohar got a lucky bounce just 58 seconds into the period. Bogdan saw the puck ricochet off a Brown Bears player’s leg.
Sicevs snapped Sholl’s shutout with a high glove-side rip, directing a one-timer on an assist from Ryan Reid, putting the Bears on the board and cutting the lead to 2-1 early in the second. The goal was Sicevs’ sixth of the year and first since Dec. 21, 2018, when he played for the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs.
Brenden MacLaren chipped in Fairbanks’ third goal of the night early in the third period on a rare mistake by Enright.
“Gavin didn’t see it and it just fluttered in,” Bogdan said. “That’s a goal that Gavin has (stopped) 99 percent of the time.”
The Bears and Ice Dogs rehash their rivalry tonight and Saturday with puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
Fairbanks 1 1 1 —3
1st period — 1. Fairbanks, Koethe (Mobley), 19:26. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
2nd period — 2. Fairbanks, Stampohar (Mobley), :58; 3. Kenai River, Sicevs (Moline, Klekotka), 3:28. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
3rd period — 4. Fairbanks, MacLaren (Koethe, Ciolli), 1:24. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 3-10-7—20; Fairbanks 14-11-15—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (40 shots, 37 saves); Fairbanks, Sholl (20 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 0 for 3.