While the Brown Bears were away losing 12 of 13 games on a road trip, fans heard of a team playing pretty good hockey for, say, 50 minutes, but still managing to lose by multiple goals due to a 10-minute bad stretch.
It may have been hard to understand reading about it, or watching it on a one-camera video feed, but Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex 801 fans got to experience it firsthand in a 6-3 defeat to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The trend continued Saturday night with a 4-1 loss to the Ice Dogs in front of 807 fans.
Even with the lengthy winless skid, Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant stressed that it’s the passion of the sport that the team holds that has kept the Bears competing.
“You have to,” Beauparlant said. “You’re not at this level of hockey if you’re not passionate about it. The players and staff included, all the way up through management.
“If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t show.”
The 14th straight defeat for the Bears drops them to 11-25-2, four points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the race for the final playoff slot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division. The Ice Dogs move to 25-11-3 and lead the Ravn Alaska Cup, the season-long battle with the Bears, by a 7-1 count.
Even though Kenai River outshot Fairbanks in the opening period Saturday, it was the Ice Dogs coming away with two goals. Todd Burgess slipped the puck by Evan Hauser midway through the frame to open the scoring, and Hans Gorowsky scored a second Fairbanks goal just 1 minute, 45 seconds, later to put the Dogs up 2-0. Gorowsky ended the night with an additional two assists.
The Brown Bears fought back in the middle period, which was highlighted by a goal from Jack Gessert — his 20th of the season, ranking him fourth in the league — with help from Jack Nickels with 5:17 to play in the frame.
Starting with a close-range shot by Nickels that bounced off Fairbanks goalie Kevin Aldridge, Gessert found the puck and took it inside for the one-touch shot. Beauparlant said he saw the Ice Dogs’ defensive zone spread out after the initial shot, which helped the attack.
Beauparlant added that the goal provided a big boost of confidence heading into the third period.
“I thought we had control of the game, despite the score,” Beauparlant said. “We were dictating play, but the difference was Aldridge in goal tonight.”
With a rash of power-play goals against the Brown Bears in recent games, it seemed as though Kenai River would escape Saturday with a clean penalty kill sheet. However, that changed with 2:38 to play in the game when Jacob Hetz scored the insurance goal for Fairbanks on a power play. Chandler Madry iced the game with an empty-netter with 79 seconds left.
“We gave ourselves the chances,” Beauparlant said. “If we weren’t getting opportunities I might be worried.”
Evan Hauser took the loss in goal for the Bears, stopping 28 of 31 shots sent his way, while Aldridge saves 31 of 32 shots for Fairbanks.
The start on Friday couldn’t have been much better for Kenai River. Just 26 seconds into the game, Jack Gessert rammed in a rebound goal set up by Maurin Bouvet and Alex Jackstadt.
Then at the 13:44 mark, Kenai Central product Zack Zulkanycz, playing in his first home game since returning from the United States Hockey League, converted a 2-on-1 with Gessert for a short-handed tally.
“The guys came out and showed a lot of energy in front of the home crowd,” Beauparlant said. “When you score short-handed, more often than not you win the hockey game.”
But just 21 seconds later, a stretch of just over 10 minutes began what would decide the game. The Bears gave up power-play goals to Jacob Hetz, Todd Burgess and Jakob Stridsberg in that time, as well as an even-strength goal to Hans Gorowsky.
That meant heading into the first intermission in a 4-2 hole.
Fairbanks coach Trevor Stewart said he could tell by reading his team during the day that a slow start was probable.
“We expected as a staff for us to be a little flat-footed,” Stewart said. “Kenai came out with energy. Our guys regrouped and had a good remainder of the period.”
Beauparlant had any number of reasons to be displeased by the stretch. He wasn’t happy with his team for taking any of the penalties, with all three being stick penalties either behind the play or 200 feet from the goal.
Last weekend, the Ice Dogs were 5 of 12 on the power play in two games against the Bears. Special teams was emphasized in practice, yet breakdowns still occurred.
“Some of our better players are making plays,” said Stewart of his power play, which was up to fourth in the league after the game. “We have good spacing and puck management and guys are putting it in the back of the net when they have the chance.”
In the second period, the Bears righted the ship, outshot the Ice Dogs 11-7 and cut the gap to 4-3 when Jackstadt ripped home a shot from the slot set up by Bouvet and Tyler Andrews.
But the backbreaker came with 11:41 left in the third period, when Kenai River failed to clear a puck, then goalie Evan Hauser didn’t make a strong enough play pushing that puck to the corner.
Lonnie Clary pounced on the puck and hit Yannick Vedel out front for the goal.
“We had an above average third period for a road game,” Stewart said. “We played tight hockey and didn’t give away too much.”
He said goalie Kevin Aldridge’s stats didn’t look great at 21 saves on 24 shots, but added Aldridge couldn’t have done much about the goal. Stewart also said John Teets, with two assists, played well.
Beauparlant also was pleased with Hauser, who made 21 saves on 26 shots.
He said the line of Gessert, Bouvet and Jackstadt played well, and Zulkanycz and Matt Rudin also added spark to the lineup.
“5-on-5, we played well,” Beauparlant said. “If you take away the empty-net goal, we outscored them 3-2. We were able to sustain pressure and finish our opportunities.”
Next up for the Bears is a three-game home series with the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill.
The games on Friday and Saturday are at 7:30 p.m., while the Jan. 25 game is at 3 p.m.
Ice Dogs 4, Brown Bears 1
Fairbanks 2 0 2 —4
Kenai River 0 1 0 —1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Burgess (Somoza, Gorowsky), 10:53; 2. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Burgess, Somoza), 12:38. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Kenai River, Gessert (Nickels), 14:43. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Third period — 4. Fairbanks, Hetz (Mueller), PP, 17:22; 5. Fairbanks, Madry (Gorowsky), EN, 18:41. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 9-13-10—32; Kenai River 10-14-8—32.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Aldridge (32 shots, 31 saves); Kenai River, Hauser (31 shots, 28 saves).
Power player — Fairbanks 1 for 6; Kenai River 0 for 5.
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 3
Fairbanks 4 0 2 —6
Kenai River 2 1 0 —3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Gessert (Bouvet, Jackstadt), 0:26; 2. Kenai River, Zulkanycz (Gessert), sh, 6:16; 3. Faibanks, Hetz (Teets, Zimmerman), pp, 6:37; 4. Fairbanks, Burgess (Teets, Tomberlin), pp, 11:48; 5. Fairbanks, Stridsberg (Ohrvall, Madry), pp, 13:25; 6. Fairbanks, H. Gorowsky (R. Gorowsky, Somoza), 16:11. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 7. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Bouvet, Andrews), 17:29. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 8. Fairbanks, Vedel (Clary), 8:19; 9. Fairbanks, Somoza (un.), en, 18:36. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 8-7-12—27; Kenai River 8-11-5—24.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Aldridge (24 shots, 21 saves); Kenai River, Hauser (26 shots, 21 saves).