The Kenai River Brown Bears are no longer unbeaten on the road.
Kenai River suffered its first loss away from the Soldotna Sports Center in North American Hockey League West Division action Saturday, losing to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 5-0.
The loss, coupled with a 4-3 win in a shootout Friday in front of 2,242 fans, puts the Bears 9-1-1 on the road and 14-5-1 overall. Kenai River holds first in the West with 29 points, while Fairbanks (10-5-6) is second with 26 points.
Saturday’s contest was the last of a nine-game road swing in which the Bears finished 7-1-1.
Six of Kenai River’s seven victories on the swing came in extra time. Friday’s shootout victory lifted Kenai River’s record to 4-1 this year in shootouts.
“It’s good right now in our locker room and in Brown Bear country,” Kenai River coach Oliver David said via cell phone. “When this keeps happening there still are teaching points. We still discuss the errors we make.
“But right now, I’m pretty happy.”
Goalie Austin Severson, who had 30 saves, was the hero of Friday’s shootout, stopping all four Ice Dogs he faced, including Gabe Levin and JT Osborn — the league’s top two scorers.
Sean Muller and Austin Sture scored for Kenai River in the shootout against Fairbanks goalie Steve Perry.
David said Severson did a good job of bearing down even though the Brown Bears were trailing 3-1 in the final period. It was similar to what Severson did when the Brown Bears fell behind 3-1 in the second period on Nov. 4 in
Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The Bears recovered to win that game 5-3.
“He got better as the evening went on,” David said of the goalie.
Alec Hajdukovich gave Fairbanks a 1-0 lead with the lone goal of the first period.
After that, the power play for both teams took over. All three of Kenai River’s goals came on the man advantage, as the Brown Bears finished 3 for 5. Fairbanks was 2 for 5.
“It’s confidence, and it’s the same with their power play,” David said. “All their guys, no matter what you do, they have two or three options and you can’t take them all away.
“They automatically move to the area you’re giving up. We do the same thing.”
Each team scored on the power play in the second period, with Kenai River’s Bobby Murphy scoring on assists from
Ryan Walker and Brett Lubanski, and Fairbanks’ Tayler Munson lighting the lamp.
Munson scored just 1 minute, 39 seconds, into the third period to put the Ice Dogs up 3-1.
Jesse Ramsey notched a goal with 16:36 left on an assist from Raymond Stenehjem, and Alex Frere tied the score with 7:25 to play on assists from Brett Lubanski and Sture.
David said Lubanski has been doing the same power play for three years, while players like Frere, Murphy and Walker have been at it for two years.
“They know how to execute and their timing is super,” he said. “They’re moving right up the chart. It’s nice to see.”
The Brown Bears are ninth in the league with a success rate of 19.05 percent on the power play. David said the power play was one reason the Bears outshot the Ice Dogs 41-33.
He also said his top four defensemen — Ramsey, Stenehjem, Sture and Walker — continue to roll. Ramsey and Stenehjem have five points in the last five games, while Sture and Walker each have four.
David said the four have been so good that players like Soldotna product Brandon Fisher have to fight to get in the lineup. David said Fisher was the practice player of the day in two of this week’s three practices.
“He’s not seen as much ice time as he has in the past and he’s not happy with that,” David said. “He came in this week, and he was the player of the game for tonight for a great all-around effort, and a great all-around effort for the week.
“That’s the heart and soul of this team — working hard and believing it will pay off.”
The hot streak finally came to end Saturday as the Ice Dogs used three goals in the second period en route to a 5-0 win.
David said the Bears were sluggish in the hours leading up to the game, and it carried over to the ice.
“It’s unfortunate that we ended this way, but the feeling wasn’t very energetic,” the coach said. “It was kind of a ‘blah’ day.”
Paul Bourbeau took the loss in goal, making 24 saves on 29 shots, but David said the first-year athlete played well.
Much of the problem, David added, was poor team defense.
Kenai River managed just 24 shots on goal and was 0 for 3 on the power play. Alex Fons got the win in goal for the Ice Dogs, who snapped a six-game losing streak.
Hajdukovich scored twice for Fairbanks — both in the second period. The Ice Dogs were 2 for 5 on the advantage.
David said the Bears are excited to return to the Soldotna Sports Center. They host the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’re looking forward to coming home,” David said.
Brown Bears 4, Ice Dogs 3, SO
Kenai River 0 1 2 0 1 —4
Fairbanks 1 1 1 0 0 —3
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Hajdukovich (Clemment, Racklin), 3:44. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Kenai River, Walker (Lubanski, Murphy), pp, 5:46; 3. Fairbanks, Munson (Levin, Osborn), pp, 16:28. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Fairbanks, Munson (Osborn, Levin), pp, 1:39; 5. Kenai River, Ramsey (Stenehjem), pp, 3:24; 6. Kenai River, Frere (Sture, Lubanski), pp, 12:35. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — none. Penalties — none.
Shootout — Kenai River 2 (McKnight NG, Muller G, Frere NG, Lubanski NG, Sture G); Fairbanks 0 (Levin NG, Hajdukovich NG, Munson NG, Osborn NG).
Shots on goal — Kenai River 14-13-12-2—41; Fairbanks 15-8-8-2—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Severson (33 shots, 30 saves); Fairbanks, Perry (41 shots, 38 saves).
Power play — Kenai River 3 for 5; Fairbanks 2 for 5.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Fairbanks 1 3 1 —5
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Padakin (Wendling, Wolter), 10:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Wolter (Finch, Fons), 12:47; 3. Fairbanks, Hajdukovich (Levin, O’Rourke), pp, 15:54; 4. Fairbanks, Hajdukovich (Racklin, Clemment), 17:55. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, O’Rourke (Osborn, Munson), pp, 14:04. Penalties — Kenai River 10 for 59:00; Fairbanks 8 for 44:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-8-6—24; Fairbanks 11-12-6—29.
Goalies — Kenai River, Bourbeau (29 shots, 24 saves); Fairbanks, Fons (24 shots, 24 saves).
Power play — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 2 for 5.