On a night of free admission for the fans, nothing came free for the Kenai River Brown Bears or Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Saturday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
In front of 2,987, the two old North American Hockey League rivals played a taut three periods and nearly a full overtime before Kenai River’s Carson Triggs flew through the air, Bobby Orr style, to win it 3-2 with seven seconds to play in the five-minute overtime
“They just turned it over,” said Triggs, who was assisted by Ben Monson and Ryan Finch on the play. “I saw a lane, stretched the play, and Monson made a great pass to me.
“I just kind of lugged the puck to the net and got lucky, I guess.”
Triggs went forehand-backhand to beat Fairbanks goalie Kayden Hargraves. When Triggs landed, he was quickly smothered by Monson and the rest of the Brown Bears as the crowd went berserk, throwing free T-shirts given before the game on the ice.
“It’s a big one,” Triggs said of the victory. “Every game you want to win, especially at this point in the season. It’s a big one to pull out because we haven’t beaten them this year.”
The game was No. 45 of a 60-game schedule for both teams, and comes in the stretch run of a ferocious battle to make the playoffs in the Midwest Division.
With Fairbanks winning in overtime Friday, both teams got three points out of the weekend. The top four in the division make the playoffs.
“Three points keeps us in the hunt,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “That’s what we needed.”
The Wisconsin Windigo lead with 55, while the Ice Dogs (24-16-5-0) and Minnesota Wilderness have 53, the Anchorage Wolverines and Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets have 48, the Brown Bears (22-20-2-1) have 47, the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel have 46 and the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues have 41.
By moving to 1-3-2-0 against the Ice Dogs this season, the Bears now have 10 points in the Club 49 Cup, while the Wolverines have 23 and the Ice Dogs have 18.
Even with such a big crowd, the scene was pretty mellow for most of the game. Cameron Ricotta scored in the first for Fairbanks, while Garett Drotts, assisted by Hunter Newhouse, answered in the second for the Bears.
Just 44 seconds into the third period, Mac Gadowsky of Fairbanks silenced the crowd by making it 2-1.
Nick Stevens of the Brown Bears then completely changed the energy in the building when he engaged in fisticuffs with Kole Altergott with 14:03 left.
“Stevie takes one for the team to kind of get the crowd going and it just kind of reignited what was in the building a little bit,” Shaw said. “Our guys certainly feed off that.”
With 9:02 left, Bryce Monrean, assisted by Hunter Newhouse and Jack Anderson, tied it at 2.
“I think we ran low on energy there and in overtime,” Fairbanks assistant Dakota Bell said. “It’s a tough place to play and they packed the house, so credit to them.
“They played hard. We had some chances. We wanted four points, but we’ll take three of four.”
As the players got tired playing their second game in two nights on the vast ice of the sports complex, the quality of chances increased.
With 4:42 left, Fairbanks had a two-on-one and Kenai River goalie Nils Wallstrom had to save a point-blank shot to keep the game level.
“He knew he wasn’t at his A game last night,” Shaw said of Wallstrom. “I think the resiliency for him to come back and know he’s going to shut them down, and for our guys to know that too, that’s huge.”
Wallstrom and Hargraves, who is committed to Division I Augustana University, both bounced back after combining to allow 11 goals Friday. Hargraves saved 44, while Wallstrom stopped 31.
“I think both wanted to bounce back last night after that high-scoring affair,” Bell said. “This was maybe a little bit more of a coach’s game being low scoring, but both boys did phenomenal.”
Never was that more apparent than in the three-on-three of overtime, with both teams trading chances and the crowd oohing and aahing the whole way.
“I thought our guys did a good job of trying to pick the right spots and didn’t try to force pucks,” Shaw said. “And that’s all overtime is when it’s three-on-three is to try and manage your chances.”
Kenai River now hosts Janesville at 7 p.m. Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“We’re certainly going to let the guys enjoy this one,” Shaw said. “It’s a big win for the group. It’s a big win for the community.
“So our guys are going to enjoy tonight, then we’re going to get back to work and turn the page.”
Brown Bears 3, Ice Dogs 2, OT
Fairbanks 1 0 1 0 —2
Kenai River 0 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Ricotta (Herzberg, Conrad), 7:27. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Drotts (Newhouse), 1:09. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Gadowsky (Recine, Biraben), 0:44; 4. Kenai River, Monrean (Newhouse, J. Anderson), 10:58. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 17:00; Kenai River 3 for 27:00.
Overtime — 5. Kenai River, Triggs (Monson, Finch), 4:43. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 14-7-10-2—33; Kenai River 13-19-8-7—47.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Hargraves (47 shots, 44 saves); Kenai River, Wallstrom (33 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 2.