The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 5-1 on Saturday in North American Hockey League play at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to lay claim to all seven Ravn Cups in existence.
The Ravn Cup is the seasonlong battle between Alaska’s only two junior hockey teams. The cup was started in the 2012-13 season and the Ice Dogs have won it every year.
After Saturday, Fairbanks leads the season series with the Brown Bears 7-2. There are three games left in the series — and the regular season — for both teams. The Ice Dogs host Kenai River on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Kenai River, at 22-29-3-3, has been eliminated from the playoffs and will finish fifth in the Midwest Division. The Ice Dogs (35-16-3-3) have a six-point lead on the Minnesota Magicians for first place in the division. Each win counts for two points, with Fairbanks having three games remaining, and Minnesota having four.
The Bears finish their home schedule with a 10-14-2-2 record in front of the faithful, including 4-3-0-1 on this homestand.
Friday, the Bears were able to stay alive in the Ravn Cup by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 4-2 victory and snap a six-game Fairbanks winning streak.
Thursday, Fairbanks had taken a 3-0 lead in the first period only to let Kenai River cut the gap to 3-2 after two periods. The Ice Dogs hung on for a 5-2 win.
Friday, the Ice Dogs had a 2-0 lead by the midway of the first period thanks to goals by Jonathan Sorenson and John Stampohar. Once again, Fairbanks struggled with the early lead.
“It was 3-0 last night and the next thing you know it’s 3-2,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “I’d like to see a little more killer instinct once we get the lead.”
Both coaches agreed a fight between Fairbanks’ Tanner Edwards and Kenai River’s Connor Scahill with 6:49 left in the first was a turning point.
“I’m a firm believer that fighting has a place in the game, and that fight is a prime example why,” said Kenai River head coach Dan Bogdan, who is 8-6-0-1 since taking over for Josh Petrich.
Scahill got in a few good licks, and by the end of the period the Brown Bears had tied the game.
Both scoring plays started with chips out of the zone, one by Soldotna’s Preston Weeks and the other by Anchorage’s Ryan Reid. Laudon Poellinger picked both up and carried the puck up the boards before shoveling it across the crease.
Thomas Walker finished the first on the far post, while Alex Klekotka banged in the second.
“Both were pretty simple,” Poellinger said. “I got a chip out of the zone, took it up the side, got it across the crease and the guy was open.”
Fairbanks has the eighth-ranked power play in the league and before Friday had only given up two short-handed goals this season.
Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik earned a breakaway against the Fairbanks power play with 9:49 left in the second period and was able to beat Fairbanks goalie Nate Reid for the game-winner.
“It was a great play,” Poellinger said. “He’s that kind of player for us.”
Poellinger had the kind of night where he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. That continued with 6:10 left in the second period, when Eagle River’s Connor Canterbury threw a puck at the net and it bounced off Poellinger for a 4-2 lead and three-point night.
“I actually got knocked down and got back up,” he said. “When I did, the puck bounced off me into the net. It was a lucky bounce again.”
The Ice Dogs outshot the Bears in every period, finishing with a 48-32 advantage. Kenai River goalie Gavin Enright had 46 saves, and was never better than during a 4-on-4 sequence late in the second period.
Fairbanks had a rebound chance followed by a breakaway chance less than a minute later. Only Enright’s cat-quick movements prevented goals on both occasions.
“I’m almost used to it now,” Poellinger said. “He makes so many crazy saves every night.”
Enright would need no crazy saves in the third. The Bears saw a lot of possession, and kept Fairbanks from chances in the middle of the ice.
“They played good, boring hockey,” Stewart said. “That’s what you want to do to protect the lead.”
Cody Moline left the game early in the second period after getting gashed in the back of the calf with a skate. Bogdan said that, fortunately, the skate missed Moline’s Achilles tendon, but Bogdan had no further updates on the injury.
Saturday, the Ice Dogs did a better job of holding the lead. Brenden MacLaren and Jake Borgida scored for a 2-0 lead after one, then Jonathan Sorenson made it 3-0 just 4:27 into the second.
Eagle River’s Connor Canterbury, assisted by Klekotka, cut it to 3-1 just over a minute later, but Matt Koethe and Jax Murray scored in the third to ice it.
Bears notes: A pair of former Brown Bears players are moving to the pro ranks.
Defenseman Tyler Andrews of Anchorage has signed with the Atlanta Gladiators of the ECHL. Andrews just finished a four-year career at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, where he won a Division III title in the 2017-18 season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound 24-year-old had seven goals and 29 assists in 107 games for the Green Knights.
Defenseman Ben Campbell has signed with the Evansville (Indiana) Thunderbolts of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
Campbell, who is from Duluth, Minnesota, recently finished a four-year career for Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder made the Commonwealth Coast Conference Second Team this season. He is No. 8 among defensemen in Nichols history with 48 points in 107 career games, coming on 14 goals and 34 assists.
Brown Bears 4, Ice Dogs 2
Fairbanks 2 0 0 — 2
Kenai River 2 2 0 — 4
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Sorenson (Koethe, Stampohar), 0:41; 2. Fairbanks, Stampohar (Abbott, Sorenson), pp, 10:02; 3. Kenai River, T. Walker (Poellinger, Weeks), 16:03; 4. Kenai River, Klekotka (Poellinger, Reid), 19:00. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 15:00; Kenai River 6 for 39:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Krajnik (Weeks, Reid), sh, 10:11; 6. Kenai River, Poellinger (Canterbury, Spethmann), 13:50. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 15-14-19—48; Kenai River 13-8-11—32.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Reid (32 shots, 28 saves); Kenai River, Enright (48 shots, 46 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 1 for 5; Kenai River 0 for 2.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 2 1 2 — 5
Kenai River 0 1 0 — 1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, MacLaren (Mobley, Murray), 7:23; 2. Fairbanks, Borgida (Murray, MacLaren), 19:57. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Sorenson (Woods, Koethe), 4:27; 4. Kenai River, Canterbury (Klekotka), 5:49. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 15:00; Kenai River 3 for 17:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, Koethe (un.), 10:06; 6. Fairbanks, Murray (Stampohar, Brown), pp, 15:04. Penalties — Fairbanks 5 for 5 for 49:00; Kenai River 1 for 4:00.