Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Jax Murray scored the game-winning goal in the last minute of overtime Friday and Saturday to lead the Ice Dogs to 2-1 and 4-3 decisions over the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Ice Dogs move to 11-8-1-2 and are in third place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The Bears are at 9-10-2-1 and with the two points earned by twice going to overtime, Kenai River has moved into a tie for fourth with the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues.
Fairbanks also leads the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle between the two teams, at 2-0. The rivals meet again at the sports complex at 5 p.m. today.
Fairbanks shook off a pair of losses, one coming in a shootout, at the Big Dipper the previous weekend, while Kenai River is on a 2-7-2-1 skid.
That tough stretch includes eight home games in the division, and if empty-net goals are not counted, seven of those have been decided by one goal, with the Bears winning just one of those close contests. Six of the eight also have seen three goals or less scored in the game.
Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich, Fairbanks Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart and Murray are all from Elk River, Minnesota.
So when Murray got the puck at a dangerous but extremely tight angle with 57 seconds remaining in overtime Friday, all three knew intimately of Murray’s lethal release and had a pretty good idea what was going to happen.
Murray, who will play at Division I Arizona State University next season, whistled the one-timer just past the pipe and also jarred the water bottle on the roof of the net to give the Ice Dogs a 2-1 decision.
“We knew if there was a little bit of daylight, he would find it,” Stewart said. “There’s a reason he’s committed to playing Division I hockey next year.”
With 1:06 left in overtime, Bears forward Jack Conroy was whistled for tripping, putting Fairbanks on the 4-on-3 power play for the rest of the extra frame. The Ice Dogs won the faceoff, worked the puck to Murray and quickly ended the game. Dylan Abbott and John Stampohar, also Division I committed players, had the assists.
The theme for the Bears has been great defensive play and goaltending, but failing to convert opportunities on offense.
“We had some Grade A chances we didn’t convert,” Petrich said.
The Kenai River coach said his squad did not play well enough in the first period to win the game. The Bears had two power plays to Fairbanks’ one, but Luke Mobley tapped in a back-door rebound to give the Ice Dogs the advantage after 20 minutes.
In the second period, both Stewart and Petrich said the Bears had the upper hand, earning both of the frame’s power plays. Brandon Lajoie, an affiliate player from Eagle River, drew the Bears even with a power-play goal with 5:31 left in the second. Michael Spethmann and Markuss Komuls assisted.
Lajoie, who has tendered to join the Bears next season, was on a line with Eagle River’s Zach Krajnik and Spethmann, first and third on the team in points, respectively.
“He can shoot it,” Petrich said of Lajoie. “He scores goals at his level, so we’re not shocked he did it here. There’s a reason why he played with Krajnik and Spethmann.”
The third-period was then back and forth with both teams rolling up chances, but both Kenai River goalie Gavin Enright and Fairbanks goalie Mattias Sholl stood strong.
With 2:33 left in the game, Fairbanks had a short-handed breakaway, but Enright denied Jonathan Sorenson, the leading scorer for the Ice Dogs, with a sprawling save.
“He was lights out all night,” Petrich said of Enright. “He deserved a better fate.”
In overtime, JJ Boucher had a chance alone out in front with 1:45 to play, but was denied by Sholl.
While giving both goalies credit, Stewart also said it was one of those nights where the puck didn’t seem to want to find the back of the net for either team.
“That one is not super fresh in my memory,” Stewart said of the Boucher play. “It was a little bit of skill and a little bit of luck, or maybe a lot of luck.”
Sholl had 36 saves, while Enright stopped 32.
Saturday, a crowd of 1,479 was treated to more extended drama.
The Bears were better in the first period, taking a 3-0 lead on goals from Sutton McDonald of Eagle River, Alex Klekotka and Andy Walker.
But Sorenson and Ty Proffitt struck in the second for the Ice Dogs, and with 11:24 left in the third period, Jack Johnston knotted up the game. Murray, assisted by Abbott, won it with 41 seconds left in overtime.
Sholl had three saves on six shots before departing, while Ethan Lahmon came on to save all 21 and enable the comeback. Dennis Westergard stopped 33 for the Bears.
Ice Dogs 2, Brown Bears 1, OT
Fairbanks 1 0 0 1 — 2
Kenai River 0 1 0 0 — 1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Mobley (Koethe, Borgida), 18:50. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Lajoie (Spethmann, Komuls), pp, 14:29. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 17:00; Kenai River 3 for 35:00.
Overtime — 3. Fairbanks, Murray (Abbott, Stampohar), pp, 4:03. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 12-9-12-1—34; Kenai River 13-13-11-0—37.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Sholl (37 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Enright (34 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 1 for 3; Kenai River 1 for 5.
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 3, OT
Fairbanks 0 2 1 1 — 4
Kenai River 3 0 0 0 — 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, McDonald (Poellinger, A. Walker), 13:20; 2. Kenai River, Klekotka (Weeks, Canterbury), 16:33; 3. Kenai River, A. Walker (McDonald, Scahill), 18:35. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Fairbanks, Sorenson (Murray, Kovacs), 7:05; 5. Fairbanks, Proffitt (Deweese, Kovacs), 9:01. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Fairbanks, Johnston (Mobley, Borgida), 8:36. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Overtime — 7. Fairbanks, Murray (Abbott), 4:19. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 7-13-11-6—37; Kenai River 6-10-7-4—27.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Sholl (6 shots, 3 saves), Lahmon (21 shots, 21 saves); Kenai River, Westergard (37 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 2; Kenai 0 for 2.