The Fairbanks Ice Dogs swept the Kenai River Brown Bears, winning 7-0 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday in North American Hockey League action at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Ice Dogs move to 13-5-2-2 and are tied for first place in the Midwest Division. Kenai River is last in the division at 8-14-1-0. The Bears, losers of four straight, now play Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Fairbanks. Kenai River will be looking to eat into Fairbanks’ 3-1 lead in the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle for supremacy between the two teams.
The Bears’ string of frightful Fridays continued with the 7-0 loss.
On the concluded 13-game homestand, the Bears had five Friday openers to two-game series. They lost those games by a total score of 32-7. Kenai River then came back to win three of the Saturday contests and lose the final two for a cumulative score of 13 goals for and 14 goals against.
So what’s going on?
“I’ve asked the question,” said Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich, who was ejected in the third period for arguing with officials. “We have to figure it out.”
Friday’s game followed a familiar pattern. First, everything appears normal.
“For five minutes until they scored that goal, I thought we maintained possession and had really good jump,” Petrich said.
But the strike by Jax Murray changed things.
“After the first goal, we broke down,” Petrich said.
Robert Blueger, Jack Johnston and Erkka Vanska scored for Fairbanks for a 4-0 lead by the end of the first period.
“We were fortunate enough to get off to a good start,” Fairbanks coach Trevor Stewart said. “It was just like the last Friday we were here.”
On Nov. 3, Fairbanks defeated Kenai River 7-1, also leading 4-0 at the end of the first period.
Once his team is down by a couple goals, Petrich said he will let his players take risks to get back in games. That’s why the early saves made by Fairbanks goalie Logan Neaton, who recorded 23 stops in his first shutout of the year, were important.
“There was a point where it was 2-0 and he made some big saves,” Stewart said. “In the second period, he also faced some adversity and handled it well.”
Anchorage’s Daniel Haider had the lone goal in the second, which also featured a fight between Kenai River’s Connor Scahill and Fairbanks’ Tyler Deweese that would have to be scored in Scahill’s favor.
In the third, Nolan Schaeffer and Tanner Schachle, the Wasilla product who recently committed to the University of Alaska Anchorage, added power-play goals. Fairbanks was 2 for 5 with the extra man and had two other goals shortly after the power play expired.
“We got pucks to the net and the goalie didn’t see a couple because we had good presence in front of the net,” Stewart said.
In a third period that would see Fairbanks take two penalties for four minutes while the Brown Bears would be assessed six for 38 minutes, Petrich had seen enough from referee Trevor Wohlford and was ushered off the ice early.
Gavin Enright had eight saves for the Bears, while Artur Pavliukov made 13.
Saturday, the Bears again got off to a poor start. Hunter Wendt had two goals and Vanska added another as the Ice Dogs took a 3-1 lead, with Kenai River’s strike coming from Luke Radetic. Kenai assistant Nick Sova said those first three goals all came on rebounds.
“We weren’t tough in front of our net to start the game,” Sova said. “We didn’t pick up sticks and guys in front of the net, and all of a sudden it’s 3-1 early.”
Samuel Ruffin added a goal with nine seconds left in the first for a 4-1 score. After that, Jax Murray scored in the second period for Fairbanks and Eagle River’s Cameron McDonald had the first goal of his NAHL career in the third period.
“We scored early in the third and kept on them the whole third period,” Sova said. “The third period was the best period of hockey we played all weekend.”
Sova said the Bears now have to carry that momentum into the three-game series in Fairbanks.
Neaton had 19 saves for Fairbanks, while Enright made 32 for the Bears.
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 0
Fairbanks 5 1 1 — 7
Kenai River 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Murray (Johnston, Ruffin), 4:40; 2. Fairbanks, Blueger (Deweese, Ledford), 9:49; 3. Fairbanks, Johnston (Murray), 13:50; 4. Fairbanks, Vanska (Blueger, Schaeffer), 19:30. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 5. Fairbanks, Haider (Ruffin, Schaeffer), 6:53. Penalties — Fairbanks 4 for 19:00; Kenai River 5 for 21:00.
Third period — 6. Fairbanks, Schaeffer (Orysiuk, Haider), pp, 10:45; 7. Fairbanks, Schachle (Schaeffer), pp, 1:49. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 6 for 38:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 13-7-7—27; Kenai River 5-10-8—23.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Neaton (23 shots, 23 saves); Kenai River, Enright (12 shots, 8 saves), Pavliukov (15 shots, 13 saves).