Saturday: Brown Bears finish season with comeback victory in Fairbanks

The Kenai River Brown Bears finished their season with a 4-3 victory Saturday over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks in North American Hockey League action.

Kotaro Tsutsumi, assisted by Dylan Contreras and Roope Tuomioksa, scored with 7.2 seconds left for the victory.

“We capitalized on a turnover and kind of took the puck to the net,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “Kota’s one of the shiftier players in the league.

“There’s no doubt about that.”

Shaw said the victory was a feel-good way to end the season.

Tsutsumi is in his final season of junior eligibility, as is Contreras.

Owen Hanson, also in his final junior game, got on the scoresheet with a goal and an assist, and Marks Slavinskis-Repe made 31 saves to win his final junior game. Tyler Krivtsov had 37 saves for the Ice Dogs.

“You can’t write it up any better,” Shaw said of the players contributing to a win in their final junior game.

The coach also gave the aging out players, as well as the whole team, credit for finishing the season strong after an 18-game losing streak that ended Feb. 24.

From that point on, Kenai River finished 8-4-0-2.

“They all agreed they wanted to be a part of getting it back in the right direction when that time came in February, and that’s super important,” Shaw said of the aging out players. “They wanted to go out the right way.

“And then for the young guys, we have a ton of guys that can return. To have the success we’ve had, the last couple months have been great. It definitely boosts the morale going into the offseason.”

At 20-34-4-2, Kenai River finishes last in the Midwest Division — the only division in the NAHL to have all its teams win 20 games.

Oddly, if the 18-game losing streak is taken out of the record, the Bears have a record of 20-18-2-2, not the kind of record that indicates a team can lose 18 straight.

The Ice Dogs are in seventh at 20-30-2-6 and have two games left against the Anchorage Wolverines.

Heading into that Anchorage-Fairbanks series, the Club 49 Cup stands at Anchorage 38, Fairbanks 19 and Kenai River 17.

Fairbanks got on the board first in the first period on a goal by Brent Gulenchyn, but Owen Hanson, assisted by Joseph Yoon and Tuomioksa, had it tied headed to the second period.

Gavin Duckworth, assisted by Joel Hanson and Jacob Margarit, put the Bears up 2-1 in the second period.

Fairbanks then scored twice before the end of the second to take the lead. Goals came from Luca Ricciardi and Reece Cordray.

The Brown Bears would dominate the third period, outshooting Fairbanks 22-10.

With 15:27 left, Yoon tied it on assists from William Esterbrooks and Owen Hanson to set up Tsutsumi’s game-winner.

“Down 3-2 going into the third period and coming out 4-3 still in that same frame, we’ll take that any day of the week,” Shaw said. “It’s still a tough place to play. It was packed for military weekend.

“But our guys were resilient. And they were having fun out there. It was fun to watch.”

Although the Bears were 0-for-3 on the power play, Shaw was happy with the special teams after holding the Ice Dogs to 0 for 3 with the man advantage.

Fairbanks was 1 for 7 in the series, a big improvement after the Jets were 7 for 15 in a three-game series against the Brown Bears the weekend before.

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