The Fairbanks Ice Dogs took the first two games of a three-game set against the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Friday, the Ice Dogs turned it on
in the second and third periods to notch a 6-1 victory in front of 556.
Saturday, the Ice Dogs recovered from a third-period deficit for a 3-2 victory in front of 496.
The Ice Dogs moved to 15-2-1 and own the league’s best record, while Kenai River falls to a league-worst 1-17-0 and extends a franchise-high pointless and winless streak to 15.
Fairbanks also moves to 6-0 in the Ravn Alaska Cup, the season-long battle for supremacy between Alaska’s North American Hockey League teams.
After not being happy with the way his team competed Friday, Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said the Bears answered the bell Saturday.
“Our boys competed for 60,” he said. “Last night, they didn’t compete for 60. Tonight, they laid it on the line for 60 minutes and I’m proud of the effort.”
The Bears went up just a minute into the game when Evan Butcher scored on assists from Joey Sardina and Bayley Marshall.
Beauparlant said Butcher and Sardina were some of the many players that responded to his call to play with more intensity.
Jakob Stridsberg would answer for Fairbanks before the period was over.
In the second period, Sam Carlson, assisted by Adam Kresl and Tanner Dufault, put the Bears up 2-1 headed to the third.
Carlson had been a scratch Friday with some nagging injuries, but came back strong Saturday.
But Liam Stirtzinger scored with 8:45 left, and Logan Coomes added the game-winner with 6:53 to play.
Nicholas Nast made 36 saves for the Bears, while Gavin Nieto had 19 for the Ice Dogs.
Fairbanks finished 0 for 7 on the power play, while Kenai River was 0 for 2.
“When the penalties are lopsided one way, including killing off a five-minute major, the shots are going to be lopsided,” Beauparlant said. “Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer and Nick Nast was solid in net.
“He competes and competes and competes.”
Saturday also marked the debut of defenseman Preston Weeks, an affiliate player from Soldotna who is just 16. Beauparlant said Weeks was solid in limited minutes.
Friday, the game started 30 minutes late because Fairbanks’ gear was too heavy for the payload of the plane. When foggy conditions swept over the area, the gear had to be driven down from Anchorage in a van.
But Tyler Tomberlin showed the Ice Dogs were ready to go by scoring just 1 minute, 37 seconds, into the game.
However, less than a minute later, Jack Gessert buried a pass from Gunnar Goodmanson for a 1-all game.
The Ice Dogs would get a power-play goal from Ryner Gorowsky to lead 2-1 after the first period, but the Bears also had several great chances, including a breakaway by Gessert with 3:56 left that was stopped by Nieto.
“He kind of held us in the game in the first period,” Ice Dogs coach Trevor Stewart said of Nieto, who had 20 saves in the game.
In the second period, the Ice Dogs tilted the ice decidedly in their favor.
“We showed we can play with them in stretches,” Beauparlant said. “Give them credit. They raised their game in the second period and we didn’t respond.”
Fairbanks led 27-6 on shots in the frame and had the puck in the offensive zone nearly the whole period until Coomes scored 8:45 in.
“The guys realized they were a little sloppy and they had to tighten up and make better outlets,” Stewart said. “We were able to spend a little more time in their offensive zone.”
Beauparlant said a bright spot during the constant pressure was goalie Nast, who ended the night with 44 saves.
“We need all our players to compete as hard as Nick Nast competed for 60 minutes,” Beauparlant said. “That’s what it will take to win a game.”
Thanks to Nast, the game was still in the balance late in the second. Nieto made a strong save on a backhand attempt by Jordan Hank but a minute later Seyia Hayata turned the puck over to Stirtzinger right in front of Nast, and Stirtzinger scored with 1:36 left in the period.
“That was a turning point in the game,” Beauparlant said. “We get a terrible turnover from a (1995) defenseman and that made it 4-1.
“If it’s 3-1 going into the third period, we stand a much better chance.”
Clay Cross and Alex Mehnert scored in the third for the Ice Dogs as Stewart said the club played its best hockey of the night, keeping the Bears’ chances to a minimum and converting chances.
Beauparlant said the Gessert-Justin Bofshever-Goodmanson line was his team’s best on the night, while Blake Carrick also made a solid return from injury.
He said young defensemen Thomas Keane, Dylan McArthur and Charles Spetz also had good games.
The Bears play the Ice Dogs at 3 p.m. today. The game is Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation Kids Day, with all kids 12 and under getting in for free. There will be a meet and greet with the Bears after the game at the Soldotna Dairy Queen.
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 2 2 2 —6
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (Stirtzinger), 1:37; 2. Kenai River, Gessert (Goodmanson, Carrick), 2:33; 3. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Ingman), pp, 10:44. Penalties — Fairbanks 4 for 8:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 4. Fairbanks, Coomes (Gorowsky, Burgess), 8:45; 5. Fairbanks, Stirtzinger (un.), 18:24. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 6. Fairbanks, Cross (Baumann), 2:24; 7. Fairbanks, Mehnert (Cross), 6:32. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 16-27-7—50; Kenai River 11-6-4—21.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Nieto (21 shots, 20 saves); Kenai River, Nast (50 shots, 44 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 1 for 3; Kenai River 0 for 5.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 2
Fairbanks 1 0 2 —3
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Butcher (Sardina, Marshall), 1:00; 2. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (Ingman, Burgess), 7:43. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 7 for 25:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Carlson (Kresl, Dufault), 6:30. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Fairbanks, Stirtzinger (McPheters, Cahill), 11:15; 5. Fairbanks, Coomes (Burgess), 13:07. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 15-12-12—39; Kenai River 8-3-10—21.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Nieto (21 shots, 19 saves); Kenai River, Nast (39 shots, 36 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 7, Kenai River 0 for 2.