The Kenai River Brown Bears are streaking in the wrong direction.
Facing one of their toughest foes, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, the Brown Bears fell to 22 straight games without a win or a point with a 5-0 loss Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The winless and pointless streak is a franchise high for Kenai River.
After being outshot 41-16 and suffering a 4-1 loss to the Ice Dogs on Friday, the Bears were pelted in Saturday’s game 43-18 while committing 12 infractions that added up to 51 minutes of penalty killing for Kenai River.
As a result, two power-play goals were scored by Fairbanks. Todd Burgess notched both of them as he completed a hat trick, the last coming with 2 minutes, 40 seconds, to play in the third period.
Gavin Nieto recorded an 18-save shutout, his third of the year, to earn the win in goal for Fairbanks. Nicholas Nast took the loss for Kenai River with 38 saves on 43 shots.
“We played aggressive and executed a good, solid game,” said Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant. “But the story of the night was that we couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
Ryner Gorowsky tallied four points — a pair of goals and assists — for the Ice Dogs while Logan Coomes had three assists. Gorowsky opened up the scoring with under five minutes to play in the first period, then assisted on a power play strike early in the second period to put Fairbanks up 2-0.
Gorowsky scored again early in the third period, and Burgess sealed the win with two goals in the final 6:10 of the game.
The Ice Dogs are now 19-4-2, good for first place in the Midwest Division. Fairbanks also clinches the Ravn Alaska Cup by moving to 9-0 against Kenai River this season.
However, Beauparlant said the only way to look at the current situation — the Bears are sitting last in the North American Hockey League at 1-24-0 — is to bring up the positives.
“We really made (Fairbanks) earn the two points tonight,” he said. “It was a good, high-intensity game between two teams.”
Beauparlant also praised the crowd, 540 strong, on giving the home side good vibes.
“It means a lot to our guys, it fueled them and helped them play harder,” Beauparlant said.
Beauparlant also credited Jeff Fasegha, Adam Kresl and Jack Gessert for solid performances, and praised the efforts of Jake Hartje, a new addition that played well after traveling over 3,000 miles from Minnesota to arrive Thursday night.
Friday’s game showed that sometimes, life isn’t fair.
The Brown Bears wouldn’t have even been in Friday’s 4-1 North American Hockey League loss to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs if it wasn’t for goaltender Brian Baker.
Baker kept the damage to 1-0 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in front of 349 when the Bears were outshot 17-0 in the first period, and kept making sparkling saves as Kenai River worked its way back into a 2-1 game late in the third period.
But, with 5:37 left, the puck flopped like a fish on the ice right in front of Baker. He went to cover it, but the rubber slithered away to the back door and Ryner Gorowsky’s stick for the backbreaking goal.
“It was a fluky play,” said Gorowsky, who had two tallies on the night. “It took a really weird bounce on him.”
Both the Ice Dogs and Brown Bears had last weekend off, and Fairbanks came out eager in the first period to wash away the taste of three losses in its previous four games.
“We played pretty well,” Gorowsky said of the first period. “We were well-rested after an off week.”
Gorowsky’s power-play goal was the lone tally of the first period, but Baker had some crazy saves to make sure the damage wasn’t worse.
During a five-on-three power play, he laid out like a baseball infielder and caught a shot by Jakob Stridsberg with 13:54 to play.
Then, just eight seconds after Gorowsky scored with 12:48 left, Cayden Cahill had a breakaway saved by Baker.
“It was 17-0 on shots after the first period,” Beauparlant said. “It was more embarrassing than anything — except for the goaltender. He stood on his head and kept us in the game.”
Beauparlant said it’s extremely hard to come back from such a poor effort in the first 20 minutes, but the Bears set about trying to do that in the second period.
“We came out playing hard hockey, skating, playing physical and creating turnovers,” Beauparlant said. “Because of the turnovers, we were able to attack the net and create scoring opportunities.”
However, the only player to cash in on a scoring opportunity in the second period was the Ice Dogs’ Josef Ingman. Beauparlant said Ingman got a clear shot from the high slot because two Brown Bears players couldn’t decide whether to block the shot or pressure the puck.
“That was huge,” Gorowsky said of Ingman’s strike. “It got our momentum back.”
In the third period, Justin Bofshever had a contested breakaway with 10:55 to play and earned a penalty shot, which he converted for a 2-1 game.
“He changed speeds, was patient and elevated the puck,” Beauparlant said. “It was a nice goal.”
Just 21 seconds after Baker’s goal, Sam Carlson was sent to the box for tripping, but the Bears killed off the penalty and were in the hunt for the win until Gorowsky’s goal.
“It was a miscommunication between the defenseman and Baker,” Beauparlant said. “It’s been that kind of year. If he’s able to cover it, it’s 2-1 and we have some momentum after converting the penalty shot and killing the penalty.”
The Bears tried to cut the gap to 3-2 with a power-play goal with 2:59 left, but Beauparlant said the tally was waved off because a Kenai River player pushed Fairbanks goalie Gavin Nieto into the net with the puck. Liam Stirtzinger took advantage of a turnover for a late goal for Fairbanks.
Baker had 37 saves for the Bears, while Nieto made 15 for the Dogs. Many of the 15 were of the tough variety when the Bears started driving the puck to the net.
“He did a great job,” Gorowsky said. “He’s a good goalie. He’s bailed us out in a lot of games.”
Beauparlant said the best lines for the Bears were Bofshever, Jordan Hank and Adam Kresl, and Gunnar Goodmanson, Blake Carrick and Carlson
The same two teams drop the puck at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Bears notes: Sunday is the second Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation Kids Day. Kids 12 and under get in for $5, while middle school and high school students get in for free.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 0
Fairbanks 1 1 3 —5
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Anderson, Coomes), 15:38. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Burgess (Gorowsky, Coomes), pp, 3:15. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 16:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Stridsberg, Anderson), 4:32; 4. Fairbanks, Burgess (Coomes, Gorowsky), pp, 13:50; 5. Fairbanks, Burgess (Stirtzinger, Lutz), 17:20. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 29:00; Fairbanks 1 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-6-4—18; Fairbanks 11-15-17—43.
Goalies — Kenai River, Nieto (18 shots, 18 saves); Kenai River, Nast (43 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 2 for 7.
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 1 1 2 —4
Kenai River 0 0 1 —1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Stridsberg, Burgess), pp, 7:12. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Ingman (Burgess, Cross), 10:52. Penalties — Fairbanks 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Bofshever (penalty shot), 9:05; 4. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Tomberlin, Mehnert), 14:23; 5. Fairbanks, Stirtzinger (Baumann, Kleven), 18:29. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 17-17-7—41; Kenai River 0-11-5—16.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Nieto (16 shots, 15 saves); Kenai River, Baker (41 shots, 37 saves).