The Kenai River Brown Bears came back from 4-1 and 5-3 deficits to defeat the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 6-5 in a shootout Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
That was the crowning highlight for the Brown Bears in the last weekend of regular season play in the North American Hockey League. The Ice Dogs returned Saturday night to shut out the Bears 3-0 in a feisty contest that saw a combined 46 penalty minutes in the first period alone.
With the NAHL playoff picture set, both teams were playing for pride against their in-state rivals.
“We kept working throughout the game and believed it was our game to win as long as we kept doing what we were supposed to do,” said interim head coach Dan Bogdan, who finished his stint at 8-8-1-1 this year.
The Bears, at 23-31-3-3, will miss the playoffs and finish fifth in the Midwest Division. The Ice Dogs, at 37-16-3-4, clinched the Midwest Division title earlier Friday when the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets defeated the Minnesota Magicians 7-4.
Fairbanks also has laid claim to the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle between the two teams. The Ice Dogs wrapped up the season series at 9-3.
Trey LaBarge bookended the Friday victory. LaBarge scored unassisted just 12 seconds into the game, then would wrap things up several hours later with the game-winning goal in the shootout.
“It’s always a tough call to choose the guys in the shootout,” Bogdan said. “I thought Trey would be the right way to end it, if that was the way it was going to go.
“I made a gut call and Trey looked at me with all the confidence in the world and executed.”
After LaBarge scored in the first, Tyler Deweese, Trenton Woods and Matt Koethe closed with first-period goals for a 3-1 Fairbanks advantage. Laker Aldridge then scored to start the second period for a 4-1 lead.
Alex Klekotka, assisted by Connor Scahill, and Jackson Nauss, assisted by Justin Daly and Markuss Komuls, got the Bears back to 4-3 a little past the midway mark in the second.
“It was just simple plays — getting the puck to the front of the net,” Bogdan said.
With 3 minutes, 11 seconds, left in the second, Koethe scored on the power play for a 5-3 lead. Bogdan said the team did well to give up just that goal during a four-minute power play.
Kenai River battled back with a JJ Boucher goal, assisted by Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and Michael Spethmann, with 1:38 left in the second, then Cody Moline, assisted by Daly and Eagle River’s Connor Canterbury, tied the game with 13:43 left to play.
Bogdan said he normally wouldn’t want Boucher, a defenseman, next to the offensive net, but the coach said the defenseman showed good awareness in jumping in the play.
Moline’s goal came when the led the rush and made a pass for a shot that was blocked. The puck kicked right to Moline and he one-timed it home.
The overtime started with a slow couple of minutes, but Bogdan said things got crazy quickly.
“The last few minutes were up and down and back and forth,” Bogdan said. “It was heart-wrenching, but as a coach you can just watch it happen. You can’t control it. You just have to expect the players will do the best they can.”
In the shootout, Krajnik failed to score on Nate Reid and Deweese couldn’t solve Gavin Enright. Kenai River’s Andy Walker and Fairbanks’ Trenton Woods both dotted the second round with goals. Bogdan said Walker has worked a lot lately on improving his already steady shootout skills and it paid off.
LaBarge then scored in the third round through the five-hole. Enright denied Ty Proffitt for the victory.
Enright sparkled with 48 saves for Kenai River, while Reid stopped 22 for the Ice Dogs. The shots total was lopsided, but Bogdan said his team did a great job earning Grade A chances and that’s what matters.
“He was pressed during quite a few moments and he stayed resilient and stuck to his guns,” Bogdan said of Enright. “I can’t speak enough of the way he performed in the shootout.”
Saturday night was won by the stellar goaltending of Fairbanks’ Mattias Sholl, who posted a 24-save shutout to send the Ice Dogs to the postseason with big momentum. Bogdan said Enright faced about 35 shots in goal in the losing effort.
Fairbanks lit the lamp twice in the second period to break open a scoreless game. Parker Brown tallied the opener just 73 seconds into the frame with help from Jonathan Sorenson and Noah Wilson, then was followed by Matt Koethe just past the midway point of the period.
The opening period saw 46 combined penalty minutes by the two teams, mainly due to a confrontation between Kenai River’s Justin Daly and Fairbanks’ Lucas Erickson.
Fairbanks capped the night with an empty-netter off the stick of Trenton Woods with 45 seconds left in the game. Bogdan also thanked a group of Kenai River supporters that made the trip north to support the team.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Fairbanks 0 2 1 —3
First period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 17:00; Fairbanks 4 for 29:00.
Second period — 1. Fairbanks, Brown (Sorenson, Wilson), 1:13; 2. Fairbanks, Koethe (Ciolli, Borgida), 10:48. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Woods (unassisted), EN, 19:15. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-6-6—24; Fairbanks N/A.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (N/A); Fairbanks, Sholl (24 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 0 for 2.
Brown Bears 6, Ice Dogs 5, SO
Kenai River 1 3 1 0 1 — 6
Fairbanks 3 2 0 0 0 — 5
First period — 1. Kenai River, LaBarge (un.), 0:12; 2. Fairbanks, Deweese (Woods, Proffitt), 1:50; 3. Fairbanks, Woods (Koethe, Sorenson), 6:08; 4. Fairbanks, Koethe (Sorenson, Brown), 18:59. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. Fairbanks, Aldridge (Wilson), 2:53; 6. Kenai River, Klekotka (Scahill), 8:40; 7. Kenai River, Nauss (Daly, Komuls), 11:05; 8. Fairbanks, Koethe (MacLaren, Mobley), pp, 16:49; 9. Kenai River, Boucher ( Krajnik, Spethmann), 18:22. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 16:00; Fairbanks 3 for 14:00.
Third period — 10. Kenai River, Moline (Daly, Canterbury), 6:17. Penalites — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Shootout — Kenai River 2 (Krajnik NG, Walker G, LaBarge G); Fairbanks 1 (Deweese NG, Woods G, Proffitt NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-6-9-4—27; Fairbanks 17-18-11-7—53.
Goalies — Kenai River, Enright (53 shots, 48 saves); Fairbanks, Reid (27 shots, 22 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 1 for 4.