The Kenai River Brown Bears split with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs this weekend in North American Hockey League play at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
Friday, the Bears notched a 3-2 victory in front of 2,242 fans. Saturday, the Bears lost 5-2.
Fairbanks moves to 14-6-0, good for 28 points and second in the West Division. Wenatchee (Wash.) is in first with 29. Kenai River is 9-8-3, good for 21 points. Fresno (Calif.) is in last with 15 points.
At 5 a.m. Friday, the 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 in Fairbanks.
“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.
Saturday, the Ice Dogs again got off to a quick start, outshooting Kenai River 15-2 in the first period en route to a 43-21 advantage for the game.
Patrick Newell scored in the first period, then Jayson Argus put Fairbanks up 2-0 early in the second.
Alec Butcher, on assists from Jacob Davidson and Austin Arnold, got Kenai River on the board, but Colton Wolter and Zack Rall scored before the period was through for Fairbanks.
Ryan Walker cut it to 4-2 in the third on assists from Zac Lazzaro and Kohls, but Garret Clemment finished the scoring for Fairbanks.
Johannson made 38 saves for the Bears, while Kevin Aldridge had 19 saves for Fairbanks.
The Bears continue play on the road Friday and Saturday when they travel to play the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats. The Wildcats will be looking for revenge after the Bears notched a sweep in Soldotna earlier in the season.
Brown Bears 3, Ice Dogs 2
Kenai River 1 2 0 —3
Fairbanks 1 1 0 —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.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 1 1 —2
Fairbanks 1 3 1 —5
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Newell (Clemment, Lee), 11:18. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Angus (Loe, Lee), 0:35; 3. Kenai River, Butcher (Davidson, Arnold), 1:51; 4. Fairbanks, Wolter (Hinz, Angus), pp, 2:47; 5. Fairbanks, Rall (Lagrone), 19:22. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Third period — 6. Kenai River, Walker (Vance), 9:46; 7. Fairbanks, Clemment (Lee), 16:22. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 8:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 2-11-8—21; Fairbanks 15-16-12—43.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (43 shots, 38 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (21 shots, 19 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 1 for 4.