The Kenai River Brown Bears kept the good vibes rolling Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, capping a three-game sweep over their in-state rivals in front of a packed crowd officially put at 1,859 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears (17-5-1-2) also stretched their North American Hockey League win streak to 10 straight games, currently best in the league. The Bears lead the NAHL Midwest division with 37 points, eight ahead of the Ice Dogs (14-9-0-1) and currently tied for second-most in the league.
Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said the weekend sweep over the club’s longtime rivals is what the team needed, and hopes the players are slowly putting the pieces together for a season-long run.
“It feels great, this is a really great group and to get three wins is pretty good,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty resilient group of guys.”
The Ice Dogs rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to force overtime, in which Fairbanks continued to apply pressure but couldn’t break through Bears goalie Landon Pavlisin (16-3-0-0), who had another winning night and finished with 44 saves on 47 shots. Fairbanks goalie Mattias Sholl stopped 40 of 43.
In the shootout, all three Ice Dogs — Laker Aldridge, Oliver Kjaer and Matt Koethe — failed to score, but it was Kenai River center Max Helgeson who supplied the only goal that was needed for the Brown Bears.
Helgeson finished the night with two goals in regulation along with the shootout winner.
Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart was sent off with 45 seconds left in the opening period. Stewart was vehemently arguing with the officials on a penalty call when he walked onto the ice to further his discussion.
The Brown Bears went up 3-0 early in the second period, but the Ice Dogs rallied with two goals in a 3:06 span to slash the deficit to one.
Helgeson tallied two early goals to jump-start the night, including the first goal just 26 seconds in that got the barn rocking.
The Bears pushed the lead to 3-0 in the second, starting with a power-play strike by Helgeson for his second of the night. The Bears scored again just 59 seconds later on a Peter Morgan goal that was sweetly set up by Cody Moline, a two-on-one rush that resulted in a three-goal advantage.
From there, however, the Ice Dogs began to pressure the Bears harder, and Aldridge swiftly cut the gap to 3-2 with a pair of scoring strikes.
The Ice Dogs knotted the score 1:48 into the third period on a goal from Adam Eisele, who brought the puck down from left to right and slotted it home.
Brown Bears 4, Ice Dogs 3, SO
Fairbanks 0 2 1 0 0 —3
Kenai River 1 2 0 0 1 —4
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Helgeson (unassisted), :26. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
2nd period — 2. Kenai River, Helgeson (Thrun, Krajnik), PP, 5:21; 3. Kenai River, Morgan (Moline), 6:20; 4. Fairbanks, Aldridge (unassisted), 7:41; 5. Fairbanks, Aldridge (Johnston), 10:47. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 6:00.
3rd period — 6. Fairbanks, Eisele (Aldridge, Johnston), 1:52. Penalties — none.
Overtime — no scoring.
Shootout — Kenai River (Helgeson goal, Morgan no goal); Fairbanks (Aldridge no goal, Kjaer no goal, Koethe no goal)
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-17-15-3—43; Fairbanks 13-17-13-4—47.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavilsin (47 shots, 44 saves); Fairbanks, Sholl (43 shots, 40 saves).