The Kenai River Brown Bears defeated the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 3-0 on Friday night in North American Hockey League action at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks to move into sole possession of fourth place in the Midwest Division.
Nils Wallstrom, who just committed to Division I American International College this week, celebrated with his fourth shutout of the season — also the fourth shutout of the season for the Bears. The Ice Dogs were shut out for the first time this season.
“I’m super happy for him to commit to a school,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said of the Swedish goaltender. “That’s the sole reason why he came over here in the first place.
“He’s super happy, his family is super happy and we’re super happy. It’s a great fit for him. It’s a weight off his back. This process started after the first game at the Showcase.”
Wallstrom made 25 saves for the Bears, while Kayden Hargraves stopped 30 for the Ice Dogs. Wallstrom has played in the third most games in the league, while Hargraves leads the league in games played.
“You can see it out there,” Shaw said. “They were both trading saves. There were a lot of oohs. You can hear when the crowd thinks it’s going to be a goal.”
Kenai River (26-22-2-1) now has 55 points and has the final spot in the playoffs in the Midwest Division. The Anchorage Wolverines are right behind at 53, while the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets have 51 and the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel have 50.
Ahead of the Bears, the Ice Dogs have 57, the Minnesota Wilderness have 61 and the Wisconsin Windigo have 63.
The Bears were swept by the Wilderness last weekend at home.
“It happened, and the group had to keep moving forward,” Shaw said. “Last week didn’t knock us out. We couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves so it was back to work, and the guys did that all week.
“They got a big one in a hard place to play like the Dip.”
In the Club 49 Cup, the Wolverines now have 28 points, while the Ice Dogs have 22 and the Bears have 12. Kenai River is now 2-3-0-2 against the Ice Dogs this season.
Brown Bears captain Noah Holt started a two-goal night with the lone goal of the first period, assisted by Casper Conradsson Kelvgaard. Shaw said Kenai River got momentum in the period by killing off a five-on-three.
In the second, Ryan Finch scored on the power play, assisted by Bryce Monrean and Hunter Newhouse.
Holt ended it with an empty-netter with 1:31 left, assisted by Luke Anderson and Monrean. Shaw said Anderson set up the goal with a high IQ play of sending the puck off the boards instead of trying to shoot.
“All four lines were able to contribute,” Shaw said. “They all did a good job of managing the puck.
“We certainly had our chances tonight, and I thought we did a good job of limiting their chances. But they got chances. They’re a good hockey team.”
Kenai River finishes the series at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The Bears have next weekend off, so it’s a crucial chance to get more points.
“For our group, the focus was on today,” Shaw said. “We’re going to enjoy it here until we go to bed, then we’ll wake up and turn the page.”
Brown Bears 3, Ice Dogs 0
Kenai River 1 1 1 —3
Fairbanks 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Kenai River, Holt (Conradsson Kelvgaard), 18:19. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Finch (Monrean, Newhouse), pp, 7:43. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Holt (L. Anderson, Monrean), en, 18:29. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-14-3—33; Fairbanks 14-8-3—25.
Goalies — Kenai River, Wallstrom (25 shots, 25 saves); Fairbanks, Hargraves (32 shots, 30 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Fairbanks 0 for 3.