The Fairbanks Ice Dogs opened defense of the Robertson Cup with a 3-0 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears on Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
Garret Clemment netted a pair of second-period goals to boost the Ice Dogs in front of 2,242 fans. The Brown Bears fell to 0-7 in the playoffs all-time against the Ice Dogs, and 4-9 against Fairbanks this season.
After 10 tries, Kenai River is still looking for the first playoff victory in franchise history. Fairbanks won the West Division at 39-13-8, while the Bears were fourth at 31-25-4.
"They've lost one game at the Robertson Cup in the last two years," Kenai River coach Oliver David said of the Ice Dogs. "They lost one playoff game last year.
"We haven't won a playoff game. We've been up against Goliath in the playoffs every year since I've been here. What we have to do is have a near perfect game and do something special."
The Brown Bears played a solid first period, outshooting the Ice Dogs 8-7 as the frame ended in a scoreless tie. Kenai River was still outshooting Fairbanks midway through the second period when the Ice Dogs turned up the heat.
"They did take it to us the second half of the second period," David said.
That resulted in two goals by Garret Clemment, who had nine goals in 53 games during the regular season.
The first goal came off a rebound with 5:46 left in the second period. Sean ORourke and Alec Hajdukovich had the assists.
With 2:21 left, Clemment and the same two assisters struck again. Clemment flicked the puck on net and Kenai River goalie Austin Severson was juggling it as he fell to the ice, but the puck trickled into the net.
"It was a three-second ordeal, but it felt like two minutes," David said.
The coach also said the goal was pivotal.
"I really think that this time of the year, luck and the way the puck bounces plays a part," David said. "That second goal was tough because every goal is so precious, especially if they are going up by two. They are the best team in the league with a lead."
The shots were even at eight in the third period, but Fairbanks took a commanding lead with 6:55 left in the game. Anton Racklin got a feed and converted from the faceoff circle. Racklin had five goals during the regular season.
"It was kind of a soft goal," David said. "It was on the ice from the far circle. It's one that Severson would like to have back."
JT Osborn and Gabe Levin assisted on the play. With Levin, who had 90 points this year, and Osborn, who had 81 point this year, on the ice for the power play, David said somebody had to be left open and it's up to Severson to make that save.
Severson finished with 27 saves. He was momentarily hurt with 4:10 to play, but he kept playing and David said his top goalie is OK.
Alex Fons notched the shutout with 28 saves.
"Their goalie did a good job keeping the puck out of the net and their defenders kept our shooters to the outside," David said.
David said that Fairbanks is so good that Kenai River cannot afford to play a great period, like the first, and not score a goal.
"The first period ends and we walk in feeling pretty good that we put up something nice and we look at the score and it is 0-0," he said. "It's the end of the season if we don't figure out how to capitalize on the small windows of opportunity that we are going to get."
David said finishing fourth in the division forces the Bears into having to play perfect hockey to get a playoff win. The Ice Dogs have never beaten the Brown Bears in the playoffs by less than three goals.
"If we want to win a game we have to put it together for three periods," David said.
The second game in the best-of-five series is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Fairbanks.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 0
First period — No scoring. Penalties — none.
Second period — 1. Fairbanks, Clemment (ORourke, Hajdukovich), 14:14; 2. Fairbanks, Clemment (Hajdukovich, ORourke), 17:39. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Racklin (Osborn, Levin), pp, 13:05. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 8-12-8—28; Fairbanks 7-15-8—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Severson (30 shots, 27 saves); Fairbanks, Fons (28 shots, 28 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 0 for 2.