The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-0 on Friday in the first game of a first-round playoff series at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
Fairbanks scored a goal in each period to get the upper hand in the best-of-five North American Hockey League series in front of 2,242 fans.
Kevin Aldridge made 23 saves as the Brown Bears were shut out for the fourth time this season and the first time by the Ice Dogs.
“The effort was good but it wasn’t good enough,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “The bottom line was we need to capitalize on opportunities.”
Just 1 minute, 30 seconds, into the game, Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz had a breakaway.
“I thought he made a good move,” Beauparlant said. “He ended up shooting it over on his backhand, or that’s what it looked like to us.”
Beauparlant said he expected the Ice Dogs, who moved to 14-3 this season against the Bears, to come out strong.
Fairbanks did just that, outshooting Kenai River 14-3 in the first period en route to a 34-23 advantage for the game.
But the Bears head coach said his squad did a good job of weathering the storm.
Tayler Munson had the lone goal of the first period. Zulkanycz was sent to the box for a slash with 10:09 left in the first, and Fairbanks controlled the puck until Munson scored with 8:44 left in the first.
That goal was key because the Ice Dogs are now 12-0 this season against the Bears when scoring first.
“It had to be a good shot to beat him,” Beauparlant said. “It went off the post and in.”
Beauparlant said the Brown Bears were then able to get some momentum in the second period, outshooting Fairbanks 12-9.
“We outshot them, but we didn’t bury the puck,” Beauparlant said. “When we have zero, we can’t win.”
The momentum turned when Lonnie Clary scored on a 3-on-2 with 4:53 left in the second for a 2-0 lead.
“We didn’t have enough effort on the backcheck and they executed a play,” Beauparlant said. “We left the D out to dry.”
Frankie Spellman was given a double minor with 15 seconds left in the second period, but the Bears were able to kill it off.
Fairbanks was 1 for 5 on the power play, while Kenai River was 0 for 2.
“I thought we killed penalties extremely well tonight,” Beauparlant said.
With 10:49 left in the game, Hans Gorowsky beat the Kenai River defense to the outside for a 3-0 advantage.
The Bears had chances late. Sebastian Fuchs was alone out front after a Fairbanks turnover, but Aldridge came up big. Ben Campbell clanged one off the pipe with 1:35 to play.
“The last minute and a half is a little too late,” Beauparlant said. “We need to put our chances in in the first and second period. We can’t wait until the third period.”
The Bears, 0-4 in franchise history in playoff series vs. the Ice Dogs, continue to look for their first playoff series victory in six visits to the postseason tonight when the puck drops in Fairbanks at 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Game 4, if necessary, will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the sports complex.
Game 5 would be in Fairbanks, where the Ice Dogs have home ice throughout the Robertson Cup playoffs thanks to winning the NAHL regular season title. The Dogs have definitely given the Bears more trouble than any team in the league, as Friday was the ninth time this season Kenai River has lost by three or more goals, with eight of those losses coming to Fairbanks.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 0
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Munson (Rose, Hinz), pp, 11:16. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Clary (Wolter, Hinz), 15:07. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 16:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Hetz), 9:11. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 3-12-8—23; Fairbanks 14-9-11—34.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (34 shots, 31 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (23 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 1 for 5.