The Kenai River Brown Bears swept the host Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage in a two-game set Friday and Saturday to take over sole possession of first place in the North American Hockey League West Division.
Captain Brett Lubanski tallied seven points over the two games, bagging a hat trick in a 5-3 win Friday and scoring twice to go with an assist in a 6-3 victory Saturday.
The Brown Bears are undefeated on the road, bumping their record away from the Soldotna Sports Center to 8-0-1. Kenai River is 13-4-1 overall with 27 points — four points ahead of the second-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The Rage are 4-11-1 and in last place in the West.
Kenai River is currently on a nine-game road trip. The trip started in Wenatchee, Wash., went to Fresno, Calif., and now is in Dawson Creek. The Brown Bears visit Fairbanks on Nov. 11 and 12. The Brown Bears are 6-0-1 on the current trip.
“Our idea is to try and win at home and be .600 or better, and be .500 on the road,” Kenai River coach Oliver David said Friday via cell phone. “Right now, it’s lopsided in the other direction.”
David said the Bears have always felt comfortable on the road. He said Wenatchee and Fairbanks have nice home-ice advantages, but that Fresno and Dawson Creek play in big buildings that don’t get overly loud. Dawson Creek drew 1,028 fans on Friday and 1,049 fans on Saturday.
“The kids look forward to traveling,” David said. “They have a fun time in the hotels and getting around doing things. It breaks up the winter.”
David said it is important that the Bears are piling up wins early. He said Fairbanks, Fresno and Wenatchee, all in the top six in attendance and averaging more than 2,000 fans per game, have the funds to make major trades and acquisitions. He said those teams will likely look very different after Christmas.
“There’s nothing bad about that,” David said. “Good for them. At every single level you’ve got differences in funding. You’ve got the Yankees and you’ve got the Oakland A’s.”
Friday, the Brown Bears continued to excel at their version of “Moneyball.”
Kenai River outshot the Rage 38-29, taking advantage of eight power-play chances to Dawson Creek’s three. The Bears scored three times on the power play, while the Rage had one goal on the man advantage.
Carter Page gave Dawson Creek a 1-0 lead in the first, but Lubanski answered on an assist from Alex Frere.
“It made sense that he got a hat trick,” David said. “He was the best kid on the ice by far. He did everything.”
The Rage started strong in the second period, going up 3-1 on goals by Scott Fellnermayr and Ryan Matthews.
Kenai River came back to tie on two power-play goals. Lubanski scored on assists by Ryan Walker and Austin Sture, and Ramsey scored on assists from Raymond Stenehjem and Miikael Arkimo.
David said that Sture and Stenehjem were very good on defense, and also were great assets on offense. Stenehjem has strung together two solid games after getting cleared to play after a potential injury.
With 56 seconds left in the second period, Kenai River took its first lead of the game when Frere scored on an assist from Lubanski and Sture.
The Brown Bears then stayed out of the box in the third period while the Rage committed three penalties. Goalie Austin Severson made the last seven of his 26 saves and Lubanski finished off the Rage with an empty-net, power-play goal with three seconds left. Frere and Bobby Murphy assisted.
Saturday, the Bears took a 1-0 lead after one period on a Frere goal and bumped the lead to 2-0 in the second on an Arkimo strike.
David shuffled the order in which he put his lines on the ice Saturday, a move he said was designed to give the team a spark.
“Just that little shake-up, guys came out on fire,” the coach said. “Maybe some guys didn’t want to be bumped down and really got after it to prove themselves. The energy all around was just high.”
Getting off to fast starts is something David said the team must do better if it expects to remain atop the standings.
That’s not lost on the players, either.
“We have a locker room full of guys and the leadership in the room to be honest and acknowledge the fact we are not perfect and need to strive to be better if we want to continue to make waves in this league,” David said.
The Bears took a 3-1 lead into the third period, but Dawson Creek answered with a pair of goals to tie the game at 3.
Jesse Ramsey put the Bears up 4-3 with 12:14 to play on an assist from Nick O’Donnell. Lubanski then scored twice to round out the scoring.
Paul Bourbeau Jr. earned the win in net for Kenai River, making 37 saves on 40 shots. There was only one penalty in the game — against Dawson Creek.
David said Lubanski was far and away the player of the series.
“He was a captain in every sense of the word,” the coach said. “And he was the best player on the ice by far.”
Brown Bears 5, Rage 3
First period — 1. Dawson Creek, Page (Hartley, Wark), 14:15; 2. Kenai River, Lubanski (Frere), 15:04. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Dawson Creek 4 for 16:00.
Second period — 3. Dawson Creek, Fellnermayr (Matthews, Hartley), pp, 4:16; 4. Dawson Creek, Matthews (McCallum, Petrick), 6:04; 5. Kenai River, Lubanski (Walker, Sture), pp, 12:33; 6. Kenai River, Ramsey (Stenehjem, Arkimo), pp, 14:24; 7. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Sture), 19:04. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 8. Kenai River, Lubanski (Frere, Murphy), pp, en, 19:57. Penalties — Dawson Creek 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-14-12—38; Dawson Creek 11-11-7—29.
Goalies — Kenai River, Severson (29 shots, 26 saves); Dawson Creek, Dyson (37 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 3 for 8; Dawson Creek 1 for 3.
Brown Bears 6, Rage 3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Frere (Murphy, Lubanski), 14:42. Penalties — none.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Arkimo (Muller, Ramsey), 2:30; 3. Dawson Creek, Petrick (McCallum, Matthews), 9:40; 4. Kenai River, Granato (unassisted), 14:37. Penalties — Dawson Creek 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Dawson Creek, Mueller (Adduono, Page), 2:12; 6. Dawson Creek, Page (Wark, Mueller), 2:30; 7. Kenai River, Ramsey (O’Donnell), 7:46; 8. Kenai River, Lubanski (Frere, Murphy), 8:43; 9. Kenai River, Lubanski (unassisted), 19:36.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 18-14-14—46; Dawson Creek 12-12-16—40.
Goalies — Kenai River, Bourbeau (40 shots, 37 saves); Dawson Creek, Dyson (45 shots, 40 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 1; Dawson Creek 0 for 0.