The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 7-2 on Friday in Fairbanks to take the lead in the battle for home-ice advantage in the divisional playoffs.
The Ice Dogs improved to 39-16-4 and have 82 points, two ahead of the second-place Minnesota Wilderness in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
The Ice Dogs have one game left — Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against the Bears — while the Wilderness have two games left.
The Bears fell to 16-41-2 and 2-13 against the Ice Dogs and will finish in last in the league after the Odessa (Texas) Jackalopes won on Friday to move three points ahead of the Bears.
Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant has been happy with the effort his team has shown even though they are out of the playoff chase, and that didn’t change Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, where the Dogs have lost six times all season.
“It’s a building where you have to grind it out,” Beauparlant said. “You have to play intelligent hockey and we made a couple mistakes, got a couple bad bounces and they had a couple goals the goaltender should have had.
“I’m still proud of our boys. They came out with energy and played hard. It would have been easy to stop playing hard at any time in the last month and they still haven’t.”
The Bears got just the start they needed when Tanner Schachle got the puck out of the zone to Cameron Cook, who found Nick Klishko out front for a 1-0 game with 17 minutes, 36 seconds, left in the the first period.
But Adam Anderson scored just 16 seconds later to knot the game for the Ice Dogs. Jacob Hetz and Jesper Ohrvall added goals for Fairbanks before the end of the first.
Kenai River goalie Alec Derks was then pulled after making 13 saves on 16 shots.
“He wasn’t solid so we made the switch,” Beauparlant said.
The Bears fought their way back to 3-2 with 10:09 left in the second period, when Joey Kaszupski got the puck to Jack Gessert coming over the line. Gessert put the puck on net and Matt Rudin pounded in the rebound.
“He’s been solid for a good month starting with the road trip,” Beauparlant said of Rudin. “He’s had good presence and he’s playing with energy.”
But again the Bears gave up a goal on the next shift, as Hans Gorowsky scored 50 seconds later to move the lead to 4-2.
“When they scored again on the next shift it killed all of our momentum against a good hockey club,” Beauparlant said. “That’s a lesson for the younger guys to learn — how important that shift is.”
From there, Adam Wilcox scored late in the second and Chandler Madry and Tyler Tomberlin tacked on third-period goals to polish off the Bears.
Evan Hauser came on for Kenai River to make 24 saves on 28 shots, while Kevin Aldridge made 25 saves for the Ice Dogs.
Ice Dogs 7, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
Fairbanks 3 2 2 —7
First period — 1. Kenai River, Klishko (Cook, Schachle), 2:24; 2. Fairbanks, Anderson (un.), 2:40; 3. Fairbanks, Hetz (Clary), 18:27; 4. Fairbanks, Ohrvall (R. Gorowsky), pp, 19:11. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 16:00; Fairbanks 4 for 12:00.
Second period — 5. Kenai River, Rudin (Kaszupski, Gessert), 9:51; 6. Fairbanks, H. Gorowsky (Somoza, Zimmerman), 10:41; 7. Fairbanks, Wilcox (un.), sh, 19:09. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 8. Fairbanks, Madry (Ohrvall, Mueller), pp, 6:25; 9. Fairbanks, Tomberlin (Mueller, Cahill), 6:46. Penalties — Kenai River 6 for 23:00; Fairbanks 4 for 19:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-9-11—27; Fairbanks 16-11-17—44.
Goalies — Kenai River, Derks (16 shots, 13 saves), Hauser (28 shots, 24 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (27 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 6; Fairbanks 2 for 8.