The Kenai River Brown Bears are knocking on the door of a playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest division. They just cannot seem to open it.
The Brown Bears lost a 3-1 tilt to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs Saturday night in front of 2,011 fans at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks, a night after dropping a 7-2 dud to the Ice Dogs.
The victory also wrapped up the Ravn Alaska Cup for Fairbanks, which stands with a 9-1 record in the 16-game series against Kenai River this season.
The Bears, losers of five straight, fall to 13-31-2 overall, and remain three points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the battle for the final playoff slot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The Magicians lost a 3-1 game Saturday night to Austin (Texas).
“They keep leaving the door open but we have yet to walk through,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said of the Magicians.
The Ice Dogs move to 30-13-3 and are one point behind the Minnesota Wilderness for first place in the Midwest.
“We’re keeping a positive attitude about it,” Beauparlant said after Saturday’s loss. “We’re trying to find a silver lining in it.”
The Ice Dogs struck first Saturday with a power play goal late in the first period from Robin Karlsson.
The goal came after Bears forward Evan Butcher was taken off the ice after an errant puck hit him in the face. Beauparlant said Butcher suffered a broken jaw and will be re-evaluated later in the week.
Kenai River maintained the 1-0 lead throughout the second period and entered the third period with optimism from a power play.
However, Fairbanks added a second goal 4:39 into the final period from Lonnie Clary, then a third from Jakob Stridsberg to ice the game.
Adam Kresl scored the Bears’ lone goal of the night with 44 seconds remaining to ruin the shutout for Ice Dogs goalie Kevin Aldridge. Aldridge took the win with 17 saves on 18 shots, while Alec Derks ended the night for the Bears with 27 saves on 30 shots.
Beauparlant said while another loss may have kept the Bears from gaining on Minnesota, the expectations of a playoff berth are still there.
“I think we got better as the weekend progressed, and the guys are seeing the fruits of their labor,” he said.
On Friday, the Ice Dogs defeated the Brown Bears 7-2 in front of 1,824 fans.
Jacob Hetz finished with a goal and two assists for the Ice Dogs, while Chandler Madry had three assists. Also for the Dogs, Jesper Ohrvall had two goals, Hans Gorowsky had a goal and an assist, and Ethan Somoza and Josef Ingman each had two assists.
Each team scored once in the first period, with Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz getting the first of his two goals for Kenai River.
Beauparlant said Zulkanycz was on an all-Alaska line with Alex Jackstadt and Evan Butcher. The coach said that line and the Maurin Bouvet-Matt Rudin-Jack Gessert line did well. He said the third line also created a lot of chances in the second period.
But, despite outshooting the Dogs 15-9 in the second period, Kenai River exited the period in a 4-1 hole.
“We lacked a killer instinct at times,” Beauparlant said. “We had our opportunities, no doubt.”
But Fairbanks then dominated the third period, with Zulkanycz’s power-play goal the only bright spot.
“I thought we played a solid 40 minutes, but the game of hockey is a 60-minute game,” Beauparlant said. “The guys recognize that we had a good game plan and for the most part we executed it.
“We had good, positive energy most of the night, but once things get out of hand, we lose focus.”
Beauparlant said the team also looked to tire a bit, and that will be addressed with more conditioning in this week’s practices.
Evan Hauser had 23 saves for the Bears, while Patrick Munson made 22 for the Ice Dogs.
The Ice Dogs now travel to Soldotna for games against the Brown Bears on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Notes: Captain Tyler Andrews did not play because he is serving a three-game suspension for a hit against the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild last Saturday. …
Defenseman Ben Campbell has been traded to the Brookings (South Dakota) Blizzard for assets. Campbell arrived last season after a trade and had four points in 16 games. This season, he had 21 points in 40 games.
With Colton Fletcher coming off the injured reserve, the Campbell trade gets the Bears down to 23 players.
“We felt like he was wanting out a little bit,” Beauparlant said. “We want players that want to be here and enjoy playing in Kenai.”
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
Fairbanks 1 2 4 —7
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Wilcox (Zimmerman, Clary), 2:20; 2. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Jackstadt, Butcher), 4:31. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Ohrvall (Madry, Hetz), 0:33; 4. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (Somoza, H. Gorowsky), 9:31. Penalties — none.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, H. Gorowsky (Somoza), 2:14; 6. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Gessert, Bouvet), pp, 4:11; 7. Fairbanks, Hetz (Madry, Ingman), 4:27; 8. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (Ingman), pp, 7:18; 9. Fairbanks, Ohrvall (Madry, Hetz), 12:27. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 4-15-5—24; Fairbanks 11-9-10—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Hauser (30 shots, 23 saves); Fairbanks, Munson (24 shots, 22 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 3; Fairbanks 1 for 2.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
Fairbanks 1 0 2 —3
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Karlsson (Ohrvall, Hetz), pp, 16:58. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 2. Fairbanks, Clary (Vedel), 4:39; 3. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (R. Gorowsky), 16:05; 4. Kenai River, Kresl (un.), sh, 19:16. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-3-7—18; Fairbanks 10-8-12—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (30 shots, 27 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (18 shots, 17 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3, Fairbanks 1 for 6.