Over 59 minutes of hard-fought, team hockey could not decide Friday’s game between the Kenai River Brown Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
But a few seconds of individual, last-minute brilliance did.
Fairbanks forward Hans Gorowsky left two defenders in his wake to score with 36 seconds left and give the Dogs a 4-3 victory in front of 620. The Ice Dogs then rode that momentum to a 7-2 victory on Saturday in front of 579.
The losses were the seventh straight for the Bears and drop them to 13-33-2, four points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the race for the final playoff spot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
Fairbanks, which is now 11-1 against Kenai River, clinches a playoff spot and moves to 32-13-3, one point out of the Midwest Division lead.
Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said the Friday loss has extra sting because his team laid it all on the line for 60 minutes.
“We all committed to being emotionally vulnerable for the first time in a long time this season,” Beauparlant said. “It hurts more because we played well for 60 minutes.”
At the end of a long shift, the Bears were actually pressing for the game-winner with some extended time in Fairbanks’ zone.
But then Ryner Gorowsky found his brother streaking out of the zone. Hans had no support from his teammates, but he slipped past one Brown Bears defender at the blue line, then lowered his shoulder and bulled past another to the far side of the net, where he tapped in the stunning goal.
“It was fun,” Gorowsky said. “That’s why you play the game.”
Up until that point in the game, the Bears had mostly been able to keep the speed and skill of Fairbanks in check by denying the Dogs space in the center of the ice.
“They did a good job keeping us outside,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “We weren’t able to penetrate the areas we needed to to be dangerous.”
After a scoreless first period, Adam Kresl hit Alex Jackstadt as Jackstadt split two defenders coming out of the Bears’ zone.
Jackstadt tapped the puck ahead. Jackstadt, goalie Patrick Munson and the puck all arrived in the same spot in one big collision, and somehow the puck trickled into the net with 17:11 left in the period.
Fairbanks answered at 14:44 when Robin Karlsson located Yannick Vedel with a long pass and Vedel put the puck between Derks’ legs.
But Jackstadt continued his solid play by finding Maurin Bouvet across the ice for a power-play goal at the 8:06 mark.
“He played like a Division I athlete should play,” Beauparlant said of the University of Alaska Anchorage recruit. “He was intense every shift and made plays happen every shift.”
But about a minute later Fairbanks had the game tied when Chandler Madry feathered a perfect pass to Jesper Ohrvall as he knifed through the slot. The sure finish was the 19th goal and 24th point for Ohrvall in 15 games.
In the third-period, the two squads traded long, slap-shot goals in the first 11 minutes of the frame. The Ice Dogs’ goal came from Ryner Gorowsky, while Jeff Solow found the back of the net in his first game as a Brown Bear.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Stewart said. “Kenai played really well. We had opportunities and they had opportunities.”
Both goaltenders turned away two clean, breakaway chances. Derks made 37 saves while Munson had 24.
In addition to the Jackstadt-Zack Zulkanycz-Adam Kresl line, Beauparlant liked the energy from the line of Joey Kaszupski, Sam Carlson and Cameron Cook. Kaszupski was returning after battling illness for over 10 days.
“We wanted to give it our all so there would be no excuses if we lost,” Beauparlant said. “If we lost, it was going to be because they were better than us. We’ll have to be better tomorrow night.”
Saturday, Fairbanks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals from Vedel, Tyler Tomberlin and Ethan Somoza.
“We didn’t play well tonight,” Beauparlant said. “It was more us than them. I thought they played the same way they played last night. We didn’t come with the same intensity.”
Tanner Schachle then cut the lead to 3-1 with a goal. But by the end of the second period, Madry had scored twice and Adam Wilcox added a tally for a 6-1 game.
Joey Sardina, on an assist from Gustav Berglund, scored in the third period, while Johnny Mueller added a goal for Fairbanks.
Beauparlant said young players like Schachle, Sardina and Nick Klishko had good games, while Berglund was solid on defense.
Time is running out for the Bears to catch the Magicians, with just 12 games left for the Bears. Kenai River hosts the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We need to collect a point every single night, whether it’s one or two,” Beauparlant said. “We need to play like we did (Friday) night where we play a team game for 60 minutes.
“If we play like tonight and play individual hockey for a good chunk of the game, our season will be over before we know it.”
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 3
Fairbanks 0 2 2 —4
Kenai River 0 2 1 —3
First period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Kresl, Zulkanycz), 2:49; 2. Fairbanks, Vedel (Karlsson, Mueller), 5:16; 3. Kenai River, Bouvet (Jackstadt, Gessert), pp, 11:54; 4. Fairbanks, Ohrvall (Madry, Mueller), 12:56. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 8:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, R. Gorowsky (un.), 8:34; 6. Kenai River, Solow (Kaszupski, Chavez), 10:57; 7. Fairbanks, H. Gorowsky (R. Gorowsky), 19:24. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 14-16-11—41; Kenai River 7-11-9—27.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Munson (27 shots, 24 saves); Kenai River, Derks (41 shots, 37 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 2; Kenai River 1 for 1.
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 2
Fairbanks 4 2 1 —7
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Vedel (Kleven), sh, 3:11; 2. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (H. Gorowsky, Ohrvall), 6:30; 3. Fairbanks, Somoza (Madry, Burgess), 9:44; 4. Kenai River, Schachle (un.), 16:16; 5. Fairbanks, Madry (un.), pp, 17:58. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 6. Fairbanks, Madry (Ohrvall, Stridsberg), 3:05; 7. Fairbanks, Wilcox (Clary), 8:15. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 12:00.
Third period — 8. Kenai River, Sardina (Berglund), 2:22; 9. Fairbanks, Mueller (R. Gorowsky), 19:26. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 15:00; Kenai River 3 for 17:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 20-10-13—43; Kenai River 14-9-7—30.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Aldridge (30 shots, 28 saves); Kenai River, Derks (10 shots, 7 saves); Hauser (33 shots, 29 saves).