They may be eliminated from playoff contention, but don’t ever count out the Kenai River Brown Bears.
The Brown Bears unleashed a furious rally in the final four minutes of regulation to erase a three-goal deficit and topple the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 4-3 Thursday night in overtime at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Michael Spethmann tallied the winning strike just 46 seconds into overtime to send the Bears to their second straight win over Fairbanks.
“I’m still not sure we (won),” quipped Bears head coach Josh Petrich. “I’m going to have to go back and look at the film.”
The Ice Dogs led 3-0 on home ice with four minutes left on the clock, but a stagnant Brown Bears offense suddenly came to life.
Filip Karlsson started the comeback with 3:59 to go, seizing a rebound and tapping in a backdoor goal, and Gil Garcia quickly tacked on another on a redirect just 19 seconds later to suddenly cut the gap to 3-2.
With 2:19 left in the game, Emils Ezitis tallied the tying goal to knot it all up at 3-all, capping a three-goal onslaught in a matter of 1:40 of game time. Petrich said a mistake from Ice Dogs goalie Josh Benson resulted in a turnover, allowing Ezitis to swoop in for the scoring chance.
“We had a game plan of putting bodies on net,” he said. “We were finally able to generate chances off it.”
Petrich said he started the overtime period with David Kaplan, Carter Wade and Sutton McDonald on the front line, but after winning the puck drop, Fairbanks quickly iced it. Krajnik and Spethmann then hopped the boards and entered the action, helping the Bears win the puck and take it into Fairbanks’ zone.
Krajnik took the puck out wide and shot, while Petrich said Spethmann snuck in behind a Fairbanks defenseman, which positioned him perfectly for a gamewinning play.
As intense North American Hockey League rivalries go, the Ice Dogs and Brown Bears share a tight history, but Fairbanks entered this weekend — the final weekend of regular season play — with the league’s best record and a 6-3 series lead in the Ravn Cup for statewide supremacy, while Kenai River was looking to wrap up its season already eliminated from playoff contention with the league’s worst record.
“I think we earned the (4-2) win last Saturday,” Petrich said. ” I think we were just as good as they were, if not better.
“Tonight, they outplayed us for 56 minutes.”
The win put the Ravn Cup at 6-4, in favor of the Ice Dogs, who have already clinched the trophy on potential tiebreakers.
Petrich said the Bears persistent attack is what fueled the comeback.
“I think they let down at the end and we came and took it to them,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing about this team, we didn’t quit.”
Petrich opined that the Ice Dogs may have relaxed a little in the dying minutes, with virtually nothing to play for as they await the postseason, but pointed out that his squad also never gave up in a game that also didn’t affect Kenai River’s season.
“You could say the opposite of us, we’re eliminated with nothing to play for,” Petrich said. “We could’ve gone to the locker room and come back to give it the old college try tomorrow, but their work was rewarded with two points.
“It shows the kind of perseverance and effort our guys give. This just reconfirmed it. Icouldn’t be more proud of them to continue to get after it.”
For most of the night, the Ice Dogs held court on home ice. Fairbanks steadily built up their lead and controlled possession, outshooting Kenai River 17-7 in the first period and 13-7 in the second.
Luke Orysiuk trailed a power play rush into Kenai River’s zone and buried a wrist shot from the slot to put Fairbanks up 1-0 at the 7:38 mark of the first, then Wasilla’s Tanner Schachle put the Ice Dogs up 2-0 on a nifty backhander on an assist from Erkka Vanska midway through the second.
A top-shelf shot from Noah Wilson left Fairbanks with a daunting 3-0 advantage.
Brown Bears 4, Ice Dogs 3, OT
Kenai River 0 0 3 1 — 4
Fairbanks 1 1 1 0 — 3
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Orysiuk (Vanska, Mayhew), pp, 7:38. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Schachle (Vanska, Mayhew), 8:56. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Wilson (Chilton, Murray), 3:16; 4. Kenai River, Karlsson (Weeks, Wade), 16:01; 5. Kenai River, Garcia (Scahill, Spethmann), 16:20; 6. Kenai River, Ezitis (Miknich, Scahill), 17:41. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — Kenai River, Spethmann (Krajnik, Komuls), 0:46.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-7-8-2—24; Fairbanks 17-13-8-0—38.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (38 shots, 35 saves); Fairbanks, Benson (24 shots, 20 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 1 for 3.