The Kenai River Brown Bears are locked into a playoff series against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets after getting swept Friday and Saturday by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League play.
The Brown Bears finish the regular season 22-24-1-1 and in fourth place in the Midwest Division, while the division-leading Jets are 31-12-4-0 with a game today remaining against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel.
Kenai River interim head coach Josh Dubinsky said the series will start Friday in Janesville, with more details on the series to follow.
The Ice Dogs, meanwhile, moved ahead of the Minnesota Magicians for the second seed in the Midwest Division in the playoffs. The Ice Dogs finish 25-19-2-2, while the Magicians are 24-21-3-0.
Fairbanks also gets the inaugural Alaska Airlines Cup by winning the four-game series in Alaska with the Brown Bears 3-1.
In Friday’s 1-0 victory, Laker Aldridge of Fairbanks kept the puck and scored on a two-on-one with 11:03 left in the first period to provide the difference in front of 750 fans. This was the first game the fan limit at the sports complex had been raised from 250 to 750 fans.
“We didn’t play great in the first and they were able to bury that one,” Dubinsky said of Aldridge’s strike.
That was all Fairbanks goalie Kayden Hargraves would need. He made 32 saves for the shutout. Luke Pavicich stopped 31 for the Bears.
“We had our chances but their goalie played pretty well,” Dubinsky said. “So did our goalie. Luke was very good tonight.”
The Bears earned a power play with 1:02 left in the game and went six-on-four for the rest of the game.
“We were able to generate a ton of scoring chances and had two or three great chances but we didn’t get the bounces,” Dubinsky said.
He said the game was like playoff hockey, which he said will come in handy in the next couple of weeks.
“It was low scoring and tight checking with scoring chances hard to come by for both sides,” Dubinsky said.
With no playoff positioning on the line, Dubinsky rested several players at various points in the series with an eye toward the playoffs.
Forward Jake Veri was injured last weekend against Fairbanks, played Friday and rested Saturday. Lucas Wahlin was injured last weekend against Fairbanks and sat this weekend, with Dubinsky saying he is close. Veteran defenseman Adam Szubert also is getting close with an upper body injury.
Saturday, the Ice Dogs notched a 7-2 victory, leading 4-1 after the first period and 6-1 after the second period.
Cole Dubicki and Gramm McCormack had the goals for the Brown Bears.
Hargraves made 19 saves for the Ice Dogs, while Nathan Dickey stopped 26 for the Bears.
Ice Dogs 1, Brown Bears 0
Fairbanks 1 0 0 —1
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Aldridge (Naaykens, Neuharth), 8:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 12-10-10—32; Kenai River 10-12-10—32.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Hargraves (32 shots, 32 saves); Kenai River, Pavicich (32 shots, 31 saves).