Sometimes, life isn’t fair.
The Kenai River Brown Bears wouldn’t have even been in Friday’s 4-1 North American Hockey League loss to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs if it wasn’t for goaltender Brian Baker.
Baker kept the damage to 1-0 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex when the Bears were outshot 17-0 in the first period, and kept making sparkling saves as Kenai River worked its way back into a 2-1 game late in the third period.
But, with 5:37 left, the puck flopped like a fish on the ice right in front of Baker. He went to cover it, but the rubber slithered away to the back door and Ryner Gorowsky’s stick for the backbreaking goal.
“It was a fluky play,” said Gorowsky, who had two tallies on the night. “It took a really weird bounce on him.”
The Bears have become accustomed to such fortune in a season that saw them fall to 1-23-0 and go a 21st game without a win or point, both franchise highs.
Fairbanks moves to 18-4-2 and takes over first place in the Midwest Division. By taking an 8-0 lead over Kenai River in the battle for the Ravn Alaska Cup, the Ice Dogs have assured themselves at least a tie in the 16-game season series.
Both the Ice Dogs and Brown Bears had last weekend off, and Fairbanks came out eager in the first period to wash away the taste of three losses in its previous four games.
“We played pretty well,” Gorowsky said of the first period. “We were well-rested after an off week.”
Gorowsky’s power-play goal was the lone tally of the first period, but Baker had some crazy saves to make sure the damage wasn’t worse.
During a five-on-three power play, he laid out like a baseball infielder and caught a shot by Jakob Stridsberg with 13:54 to play.
Then, just eight seconds after Gorowsky scored with 12:48 left, Cayden Cahill had a breakaway saved by Baker.
“It was 17-0 on shots after the first period,” Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “It was more embarrassing than anything — except for the goaltender. He stood on his head and kept us in the game.”
Beauparlant said it’s extremely hard to come back from such a poor effort in the first 20 minutes, but the Bears set about trying to do that in the second period.
“We came out playing hard hockey, skating, playing physical and creating turnovers,” Beauparlant said. “Because of the turnovers, we were able to attack the net and create scoring opportunities.”
However, the only player to cash in on a scoring opportunity in the second period was the Ice Dogs’ Josef Ingman. Beauparlant said Ingman got a clear shot from the high slot because two Brown Bears players couldn’t decide whether to block the shot or pressure the puck.
“That was huge,” Gorowsky said of Ingman’s strike. “It got our momentum back.”
In the third period, Justin Bofshever had a contested breakaway with 10:55 to play and earned a penalty shot, which he converted for a 2-1 game.
“He changed speeds, was patient and elevated the puck,” Beauparlant said. “It was a nice goal.”
Just 21 seconds after Baker’s goal, Sam Carlson was sent to the box for tripping, but the Bears killed off the penalty and were in the hunt for the win until Gorowsky’s goal.
“It was a miscommunication between the defenseman and Baker,” Beauparlant said. “It’s been that kind of year. If he’s able to cover it, it’s 2-1 and we have some momentum after converting the penalty shot and killing the penalty.”
The Bears tried to cut the gap to 3-2 with a power-play goal with 2:59 left, but Beauparlant said the tally was waved off because a Kenai River player pushed Fairbanks goalie Gavin Nieto into the net with the puck. Liam Stirtzinger took advantage of a turnover for a late goal for Fairbanks.
Baker had 38 saves for the Bears, while Nieto made 14 for the Dogs. Many of the 14 were of the tough variety when the Bears started driving the puck to the net.
“He did a great job,” Gorowsky said. “He’s a good goalie. He’s bailed us out in a lot of games.”
Beauparlant said the best lines for the Bears were Bofshever, Jordan Hank and Adam Kresl, and Gunnar Goodmanson, Blake Carrick and Carlson.
The same two teams drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
Bears notes: Saturday will be Stanley Ford and Stanley Chrysler nights, with Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association scrimmages at intermission and a puck-shooting contest between the Stanley Ford Moose and Stanley Chrysler Ram during another intermission. …
Sunday is the second Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation Kids Day. Kids 12 and under get in for $5, while middle school and high school students get in for free.
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 1 1 2 —4
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Stridsberg, Burgess), 7:12. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Ingman (Burgess, Cross), 10:52. Penalties — Fairbanks 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Bofshever (penalty shot), 9:05; 4. Fairbanks, Gorowsky, 14:23; 5. Fairbanks, Stirtzinger, 18:29.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 17-17-8—42; Kenai River 0-11-4—15.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Nieto (15 shots, 14 saves); Kenai River, Baker (42 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 1 for 5; Kenai River 0 for 3.