At 5 a.m. Friday, the Kenai River Brown Bears were getting out of their beds on the central Kenai Peninsula. Before 10 p.m. Friday, the Bears were victoriously skating off the ice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
The Bears defeated the Ice Dogs 3-2 in North American Hockey League play in front of 2,242 fans. Kenai stopped a two-game skid, while Fairbanks has now lost four of its last five at home.
The Bears improve to 9-7-3, good for third place in the West Division with 21 points. Fairbanks, in second, drops to 13-6-0 with 26 points, while Wenatchee (Wash.) leads with 29 points and Fresno (Calif.) is in last with 15 points.
"It was a bad travel day," Bears coach Oliver David said. "As a coach, I was crossing my fingers a little bit knowing what we went through today."
The Bears had to be at the airport in Kenai before 6 a.m., and arrived in Fairbanks at 1 p.m., napped, had lunch, napped again, then got to the rink by 4:30 p.m.
David said the Ice Dogs outplayed his club in the first period, but he thinks it was due to the smaller rink in Fairbanks, not the travel.
"It's a very difficult transition," David said. "They were pretty sharp in the first, and we made some adjustments."
Kyle Lee scored for Fairbanks just 1 minute, 38 seconds, into the game. Lucas Kohls, on assists from Brad LeLievre and Ryan Walker, tied the game less than five minutes later. Kohls ended the night 12th in the league in scoring with 20 points. Despite getting outshot 14-5, the Bears left the first period tied at 1.
"I would say this is a well-deserved win because it's not easy to make adjustments just because I'm shouting them or drawing them on the board," David said.
Lee scored again in the second, but Kenai River's Dylan Meier answered with a short-handed, unassisted goal less than two minutes later.
David said Meier blocked a shot, then chipped the puck past the defenseman. He skated down the ice, took a shot, got his own rebound, then scored.
"It was the highlight goal of his season so far," David said.
With 10:57 left in the second period, LeLievre scored on the power play on assists from Conor Deal and Zack Zulkanycz for the game-winner. LeLievre has six of his 11 points in the last four games.
Special teams played a huge role in the game, with Fairbanks getting two power-play goals, and the Brown Bears scoring short-handed and on the power play.
"LeLievre is the youngest forward on our team," David said of the 17-year-old. "He has been great. That line continues to earn more and more ice time."
Gustaf Johannson kept the Ice Dogs off the board in the third period, finishing with 30 saves. Kevin Aldridge had 23 saves for the Ice Dogs.
David said the Bears caught the Ice Dogs missing several key players due to illness or injury, but he said it's important to take advantage of those openings.
"If they're sick, we better not be," David said. "Let's capitalize."
The Bears' previous two games were losses to the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays at home. David said illness before that series led to less-than-stellar practices, but he said the practices were great leading up to the Ice Dogs series.
"We believe in practicing hard, and the payoff comes when it is test time," David said.
The same two teams drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Brown Bears 3, Ice Dogs 2
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Lee (Newell, Clemment), pp, 1:38; 2. Kenai River, Kohls (LeLievre, Walker), 6:14. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Lee (Newell, Clemment), pp, 5:53; 4. Kenai River, Meier (un.), sh, 7:37; 5. Kenai River, LeLievre (Deal, Zulkanycz), 9:03. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 11:00; Fairbanks 6 for 15:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 5-11-10—26; Fairbanks 14-7-11—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johannson (32 shots, 30 saves); Fairbanks (26 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 8; Fairbanks 2 for 4.