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Saturday: Ice Dogs topple Brown Bears

The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 4-3 on Saturday in North American Hockey League play at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.

The Ice Dogs were able to come back from a 3-0 deficit to snap a six-game losing streak against the Bears and get a crucial victory in the playoff chase.

“We certainly didn’t help ourselves with this one,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “We still control our own destiny and it’s about what we do with that.”

The Wisconsin Windigo, with 75 points, have clinched a playoff spot in the Midwest Division, while the Minnesota Wilderness, with 71 points, are a near lock to make the playoffs.

Four teams are battling for the final two playoff spots.

The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel lead that pack after topping the Anchorage Wolverines 6-2 on Sunday to move to 64 points with four games left to play.

The Bears (30-23-2-1) are at 63 points and four games left to play.

The Ice Dogs (27-24-6-1) have 61 points but only two games left, both against the Steel. The Anchorage Wolverines have 59 points and four games to play.

The Ice Dogs were founded in 1997 and moved to the NAHL in 2003. Fairbanks is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time in 26 seasons.

The Brown Bears finish 6-4-0-2 against the Ice Dogs this season, only the second time in franchise history the Bears have had a winning record against Fairbanks.

Kenai River is in its 16th season and has made seven playoff appearances. The Bears were nearing a playoff berth in 2020 when the season was canceled due to the pandemic.

“This group’s accomplished so much,” Shaw said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t get in the playoffs, it’s a miss.

“We’ve worked so hard to put ourselves in this spot. We have to make sure we see it through.”

Kenai River jumped to a 3-0 lead Saturday. Ryan Finch, assisted by Bryce Monrean and Hunter Newhouse, had the lone goal of the first period, while Garett Drotts, assisted by Kotaro Tsutsumi, and Andy Larson, assisted by Carson Triggs and Noah Holt, scored early in the second.

“We were playing hard and doing a decent job of managing the puck and shooting pucks,” Shaw said.

Larson, a tender by the Bears for next season, had his first NAHL goal in seven games.

“It was a big-time goal,” Shaw said. “He’s been playing with a ton of pace and skill. Now that he has this one, hopefully he can get a few more.”

Fairbanks stormed back with goals by McCabe Dvorak, Joey Potter and Billy Renfrew in the second period.

Cameron Ricotta then scored the game-winner with 9:11 left in the game.

“We totally got on our heels,” Shaw said. “We were not playing good defensive hockey, we were not good managing the puck, we had bad turnovers, we had no push, no energy, flat.”

Nils Wallstrom stopped 26 for the Bears, while Jack Olson had 27 saves for Fairbanks.

The Club 49 Cup standings are 28 for Anchorage, 26 for Fairbanks and 20 for the Bears.

All four games left for the Brown Bears are against the Wolverines.

Kenai River finishes with games Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. in Anchorage, then April 14 and 15 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The Bears are 3-5 against the Wolverines this season, including losing the last three.

“We’ve got to get back to work Monday,” Shaw said. “We just had a conversation on that in the locker room.

“We’ve got to go back to work, and from there take it one day at a time again.”

Saturday

Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 3

Kenai River 1 2 0 —3

Fairbanks 0 3 1 —4

First period — 1. Kenai River, Finch (Monrean, Newhouse), 11:02. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.

Second period — 2. Kenai River, Drotts (Tsutsumi), pp, 2:49; 3. Kenai River, Larson (Triggs, Holt), 5:08; 4. Fairbanks, Dvorak (Pendo, Cordray), 6:47; 5. Fairbanks, Potter (Biraben, Recine), pp, 12:15; 6. Fairbanks, Renfrew (Biraben, Conrad), 14:58. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.

Third period — 7. Fairbanks, Ricotta (Berry, Herzberg), 10:49. Penalties — none.

Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-11-7—30; Fairbanks 8-15-7—30.

Goalies — Kenai River, Wallstrom (30 shots, 26 saves); Fairbanks, Olson (30 shots, 27 saves).

Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 4; Fairbanks 1 for 1.

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