The Kenai River Brown Bears hung with their rivals for two periods, but couldn’t make it last.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs prevailed 6-3 Thursday in North American Hockey League action at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks, helping to strengthen their hold atop the NAHL Midwest Division.
The Ice Dogs (14-5-2-2) lead the division with 32 points, two ahead of Janesville (Wisconsin). Kenai River (8-15-1-0) dropped to last in the six-team division with 17 points. Coulee Region (Wisconsin) sits fifth with 18 points.
Fairbanks also grabbed a 4-1 lead in the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong series between the two in-state rivals.
Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said using the excuse of being a young team no longer works at this point of the season.
“It always looks like people expect the Brown Bears to get beat by Fairbanks, and that’s not my mentality,” Petrich said. “There’s no reason we can’t be there on even par with them, and it takes caring, belief and the expectation that we’re going to go in there and beat them.
“I think we’re right on the cusp, but we’ve got to stay positive and can’t be OK with playing 40 minutes. We have to play 60 minutes.”
After taking a 13-12 edge on shots in the first period, which ended 3-all, the Brown Bears were outshot 30-8 in the final two periods of play.
Luke Radetic and Joseph Allegrini scored 37 seconds apart to tie the game at 3 apiece late in the first period.
After a scoreless second period that saw Fairbanks outshoot Kenai River 14-4, the Ice Dogs finally regained the lead early in the third with a strike from Jack Johnston.
“It was just a bad defensive play,” Petrich said. “We didn’t put a stick on the puck, they went for a quick wraparound.
“We played well for most of the night, the difference is that’s a veteran team and an older team. It’s a tough building to play in, and they found a way to win it and we found a way to lose it.”
Josh Benson earned the win between the pipes with 18 saves, while Kenai River goaltender Artur Pavliukov stopped 36 of 41 shots.
Zach Krajnik scored 8:58 into the first period to answer an early Fairbanks goal from Daniel Haider, but Hunter Wendt and Tyler Deweese put the Ice Dogs up 3-1 with goals 30 seconds apart midway through the period.
Petrich said turnovers, bad line changes and defensive letdowns all contributed to the three-goal third period by Fairbanks.
“As the game goes along and you go through it tied, you know it’s probably one goal that’s going to win it, and we can’t have that happen,” he said.
The two teams meet again tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to wrap up the three-game weekend series.
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 3
Kenai River 3 0 0 —3
Fairbanks 3 0 3 —6
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Haider (Wendt, Hite), 2:52; 2. Kenai River, Krajnik (Radetic, Wahl), 8:58; 3. Fairbanks, Wendt (Hite, Haider), PP, 13:08; 4. Fairbanks, Deweese (Johnston, Woods), 13:38; 5. Kenai River, Radetic (McDonald), 15:46; 6. Kenai River, Allegrini (Posner, Klekotka), 16:23. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — no scoring. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 7. Fairbanks, Johnston (Murray, Ruffin), 2:26; 8. Fairbanks, Vanska (Schachle, Mayhew), 17:31; 9. Fairbanks, Mayhew (Blueger), EN, 18:41. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 13-4-4—21; Fairbanks 12-14-16—42.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavliukov (41 shots, 36 saves); Fairbanks, Benson (21 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 1 for 5.