The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 on a last-second goal Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks in front of 2,242 fans.
The Brown Bears' lead in the Era Alaska Cup, the season series between the two squads, was cut to 3-2. The same two squads play at 7:30 in Fairbanks tonight.
Fairbanks is 19-8-0, good for second in the North American Hockey League West Division, while Kenai River is in third at 12-11-4.
With 23 seconds left in the game, the Bears faced a faceoff in their own zone. Kenai River won the faceoff and skated out to a two-on-one, but couldn't convert. Fairbanks stormed down the ice on a two-on-two and threw the puck at the net. Garret Clemment knocked it in just in time for the win.
"The guys are pretty upset right now," Kenai River assistant Kyle Bailey said. "They're not too happy with the loss. Me and (head coach) Oliver (David) were pleased with the effort they put out. They did everything we told them to. They did enough to win."
It was a given that Fairbanks would come out strong after getting swept by Kenai River at the Soldotna Sports Center, and the Ice Dogs did not disappoint.
"We knew they would come out flying, and I thought we did a very good job, especially early in the first period, of weathering the storm," Bailey said.
The first period ended scoreless. Jake Bushey, on assists from Zac Lazzaro and Dylan Meier, got the Bears on the board 5 minutes, 50 seconds, into the second period. Bushey fired in a shot from the point.
Devin Loe tied it at 1 for Fairbanks on the power play with 8:41 left in the second.
"We did get into some penalty trouble late in the second period, and that continued into the third period," Bailey said. "Anytime you give them seven power plays, they are going to get goals."
Fairbanks was 1 for 7 on the power play, while the Bears were 0 for 5.
Carson Vance, on assists from Alec Butcher and Alex Jackstadt, gave the Bears the lead 5:23 into the third period. Jackstadt was upended while carrying the puck and it went to Vance, who threw it at the net and scored.
Patrick Newell scored for Fairbanks with 7:46 left to set up Clemment's heroics.
Gustaf Johansson had 19 saves for the Bears, while Kevin Aldridge had 14 for Fairbanks.
"Gustaf played a strong game in front of us, and the D played a strong game in front of him," Bailey said.
Bailey said the Bears are ready for Saturday's game.
"Our team is just very excited to get back on the ice," Bailey said. "They believe they deserved to win that game."
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 2
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Bushey (Lazzaro, D. Meier), 5:50; 2. Fairbanks, Loe (Angus, Rall), pp, 11:19. Penalties — Kenai River 7 for 22:00; Fairbanks 6 for 12:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Vance (Butcher, Jackstadt), 5:23; 4. Fairbanks, Newell (Lee, Campbell), 12:14; 5. Fairbanks, Clemment (Loe, Rose), 20:00. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 5-3-8—16; Fairbanks 6-10-6—22.
Goalies — Kenai River, Johansson (22 shots, 19 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (16 shots, 14 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 5; Fairbanks 1 for 7.