The Jax Murray show continued Sunday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
For the third straight night, Division I Arizona State University recruit netted the game-winning goal as the Ice Dogs completed a three-game sweep of the Kenai River Brown Bears with a 1-0 victory in North American Hockey League action.
“Jax was the game-changer in the series,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “He had three game-winning goals, two in overtime. You can’t argue against that.”
The Ice Dogs move to 12-8-1-2 and remain in third place in the Midwest Division. The Brown Bears drop to 9-11-2-1 and remain tied for fourth place in the division. Fairbanks also leads the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle between the two teams, at 3-0.
Kenai River is on a 2-8-2-1 skid during which a distinct pattern has emerged. That tough stretch includes nine home games in the division, and if empty-net goals are not counted, eight of those have been decided by one goal, with the Bears winning just one of those close contests. Seven of the nine also have seen three goals or less scored in the game.
“It’s a repeating pattern and we have to go and try and end the cycle,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “I didn’t think we did a good job tonight getting to the net.”
The coach added that his squad got to the net in taking a 3-0 first-period lead Saturday, but failed to get to the net in the final five periods of the weekend.
Stewart said play was back-and-forth but a bit sloppy on both ends due to fatigue and the ice being a bit chippy. Stewart also said both teams are still learning what works and what doesn’t in this league. The coach added that when all those factors mix, it’s possible for a talented veteran like Murray to be the difference in a series.
“Jax Murray had three game-winning goals and that’s why he’s one of the best in the league,” Petrich said. “I gotta give him a ton of credit. At the same time, we have guys that are just as good. They just have to step up and play more consistent.”
Fairbanks goaltender Matthias Sholl and Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright had things figured out. Sholl, the night after getting pulled after giving up three goals in the first period, made 36 saves to record his first shutout in his sixth appearance this season.
“It was a wakeup call for our guys and they responded,” Stewart said of pulling Sholl in Saturday’s 4-3, comeback, overtime win. “We told him right after the game he was playing tonight and he came back and played well.”
Murray struck with 8:45 left in the second period on the power play. John Stampohar and Dylan Abbott, two other players with Division I commitments, assisted. The duo assisted on Murray’s overtime winner on Friday, while Abbott had the assist on Saturday’s game-winner.
The Bears outshot the Ice Dogs 17-8 in the third period, but could not solve Sholl.
The series moves to Fairbanks with a 7 p.m. game Thursday and 7:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday.
“I’m excited to go and play in Fairbanks,” Petrich said. “The guys will have to go to the net because there’s not a lot of space outside the dots. It’s probably the best place in the league to play as an opponent, so we’ll see what happens.”
Ice Dogs 1, Brown Bears 0
Fairbanks 0 1 0 — 1
Kenai River 0 0 0 — 0
First period — none. Penalties — none.
Second period — 1. Fairbanks, Murray (Stampohar, Abbott), pp, 11:15. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 9-8-8—25; Kenai River 10-9-17—36.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Sholl (36 shots, 36 saves); Kenai River, Enright (25 shots, 24 saves).