A franchise-worst season ended with a whimper Saturday night for the Kenai River Brown Bears, who succumbed 6-0 to the North American Hockey League leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The loss was the final dagger of a 4-51-5 campaign for the Brown Bears, whose 56 losses are an NAHL record.
In the other extreme, the victory for the Ice Dogs gave Fairbanks an NAHL record haul of 101 points in one season. Fairbanks finished atop the West Division with a 49-8-3 season and clinched the league’s best record.
Friday night, Kenai River lost a 4-1 contest to the Ice Dogs.
Kenai River assistant coach Jed McGlasson attributed the two losses to the team experiencing lapses in play.
“The weekend as a whole, yeah, we played them tough for the most part,” McGlasson said. “But when you don’t play a full 60 minutes, those other minutes tend to add up.”
Four of the six goals the Brown Bears gave up Saturday night came on the Fairbanks power play, and Kenai River suffered a staggering 54 penalty minutes on 15 charges while Fairbanks was handed five penalties for 10 minutes.
“A couple of those we didn’t mean to take, and they were just unnecessary penalties, and that came back to bite us,” McGlasson said. “Selfish penalties cost us.”
Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton was dealt a game misconduct penalty late in the third period for abuse of officials. McGlasson said he believed it was simply miscommunication on the officials’ part.
“(Worlton) was just talking to one of the linesman, asking a question, and the head ref saw it as something else,” McGlasson said.
After a scoreless opening period of play, Fairbanks struck netting first midway through the second frame with a goal by Ryner Gorowsky on the power play. Todd Burgess and Clay Cross added a goal before the period was up, with Burgess also striking on a man advantage.
Burgess added a second goal with 8:12 remaining in the third period to push the lead to 4-0, and Liam Stirtzinger and Tyler Tomberlin both scored on power play opportunities in the final five minutes to seal the victory.
CJ Boothe tallied the 17-save shutout in goal for Fairbanks. Magnus Lindhe started in net for Kenai River and stopped 22 of 25 shots before being pulled for Nicholas Nast, who finished the third period with 11 saves on 14 shots.
Friday at the Big Dipper, the toughest place to play in the North American Hockey League this season, the Kenai River Brown Bears failed to carry over any momentum from an overtime loss on Thursday, falling 4-1 in front of 2,242. This came after a 3-2 overtime loss Thursday.
“We’ve got to be better,” said Worlton. “We’ve got to be more consistent.”
After Saturday’s win, the Ice Dogs moved to 26-3-2 at home and 16-0-0 against the Brown Bears in the Ravn Alaska Cup.
With a winning percentage of .110, the Bears are a long way from the worst winning percentage in league history, set by the Lytes Rustlers in 1990-91 with a 1-38-1 record computing to .0375.
Friday, Fairbanks took a 2-0 lead in the first on goals from Evan Somoza and Cameron Cook. In the second period, Jakob Stridsberg and Todd Burgess pushed the lead to 4-0.
“We just were watching,” Worlton said. “We watched a little in the first, and watched a little in the second.
“We were spectators, not hockey players.”
Worlton said midway through the second period, his squad started playing. The official shot count was 51-28 in favor of the Ice Dogs, but Worlton said Kenai River’s stats had the Bears outshooting the Dogs in the game.
The Bears won the third period 1-0 on a goal by Collin Appleton, assisted by Joey Sardina and Connor Nilson. Nick Nast came on in relief of Magnus Lindhe after the third goal and Worlton said he was solid.
“We’re happy with the way we closed the game,” Worlton said. “The question is, ‘Where was it the first 40 minutes?’”
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Fairbanks 0 3 3 —6
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 1. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Coomes, Burgess), pp, 9:13; 2. Fairbanks, Burgess (Gorowsky, Ingman), pp, 14:16; 3. Fairbanks, Cross (Tomberlin, Mehnert), 19:34. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 20:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Fairbanks, Burgess (Coomes, Ingman), 11:48; 5. Fairbanks, Stirtzinger (Lutz, Tomberlin), 15:49; 6. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (Gorowsky, Burgess), pp, 18:43. Penalties — Kenai River 7 for 30:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 3-7-7—17; Fairbanks 10-15-14—39.
Goalies — Kenai River, Lindhe (25 shots, 22 saves), Nast (14 shots, 11 saves); Fairbanks, Boothe (17 shots, 17 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 4 for 11.
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
Fairbanks 2 2 0 —4
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Somoza (Cross, Orysiuk), 13:47; 2. Fairbanks, Cook (Kero, Baumann), 15:44. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (Ingman, Baumann), 5:14; 4. Fairbanks, Burgess (Gorowsky, Sullivan), pp, 9:06. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 5. Kenai River, Appleton (Sardina, Nilson), 4:08. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 14:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-11-7—28; Fairbanks 11-16-24—51.
Goalies — Kenai River, Lindhe (18 shots, 15 saves), Nast (33 shots, 32 saves); Fairbanks, Boothe (28 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 1 for 7.