After grabbing hold of some important momentum last weekend with a sweep, the Kenai River Brown Bears were brought back down to earth with losses on Friday and Saturday nights against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
After a 6-1 loss on Friday night, Kenai River was shut out on Saturday in a 3-0 loss. The sweep gives the Bears a 21-21-6 record and 48 points, still good for third place in the North American Hockey League West division standings. Wenatchee continues to lead the West with 74 points, leading Fairbanks by nine.
It also decreases Kenai River’s lead in the Era Alaska Cup, the season-long battle between the Bears and Dogs. The season series is now knotted up at 5-5.
Saturday, Kyle Lee had three points to lead the Dogs in front of 2,242 fans.
Max Birkinbine broke a scoreless tie just 17 seconds into the second period when he scored a power-play goal on assists from Lee and Nick Hinz. Lee added an unassisted goal just three minutes later.
Lee finished the scoring with a third-period goal.
Steve Perry made 24 saves in getting the shutout for Fairbanks, while Evan McCarthy had 28 saves for the Brown Bears.
On Friday in front of 2,242 fans, the depth and skill of the Ice Dogs was on full display as 15 players registered at least one point.
“They scored a couple of goals and got confidence,” Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. “The last thing you want is for Fairbanks to get confidence.”
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak and nine-game point streak for the Bears. It also snapped a five-game losing streak for the Dogs.
The Bears scored the lone goal of the first period when Chris Nuth connected on a tip-in goal, with assists from Jake Bushey and Matt Seidel. Nuth now has three goals in his last four games.
It was all Fairbanks after that.
Garret Clemment, Ben Campbell and Curran Klein scored in the second period for a 3-1 lead.
David said a turning point came early in the third period. The Bears started with 1 minute, 14 seconds, of a five-on-three power play, but didn’t score.
The Ice Dogs got goals from Jakob Romo, Taylor Munson and Colton Wolter in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“I think we got affected by the score and the team game went out the window,” David said. “Guys started cheating and playing the wrong side of the puck, taking chances and leaving linemates out to dry. We paid for it.”
McCarthy made 20 saves for the Bears, while Perry had 15 saves for the Ice Dogs.
McCarthy was starting for Marcus Zelzer, who had started all nine games of the point streak. Zelzer was injured in the final period of the Bears’ victory over the Ice Dogs on Jan. 9.
David said Zelzer is expected to make a full recovery from the knee injury, and should be ready when Fairbanks comes to the Soldotna Sports Center on March 1.
McCarthy hadn’t started a game since Jan. 12.
“In fairness to McCarthy, he was playing his first game since Zelzer got here,” David said. “The guys needed to get him off and running and play well in front of him, and they got away from that.”
Soldotna High School product Brad Duwe returned to the lineup for the Bears. He has a minor concussion in practice and missed the series with Janesville (Wis.) on Jan. 18, then got a more serious concussion on Feb. 1 against Frenso. He had not played since.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 0
Kenai River 0 0 0 —0
Fairbanks 0 2 1 —3
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Max Birkinbine (Lee, Hinz), pp, 0:17; 2. Fairbanks, Lee (un.), 3:20. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Fairbanks, Lee (Cornellier, Clemment), 8:54. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goals — Kenai River 7-7-10—24; Fairbanks 16-8-7—31.
Goalies — Kenai River, McCarthy (31 shots, 28 saves); Fairbanks, Perry (24 shots, 24 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 1 for 4.
Ice Dogs 6, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Fairbanks 0 3 3 —6
First period — 1. Kenai River, Nuth (Bushey, Seidel), 9:52. Penalties — Kenai River 4 for 19:00; Fairbanks 1 for 5:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Clemment (Cornellier, Lagrone), 2:06; 3. Fairbanks, Campbell (Birkinbine, Hetz), 8:41; 4. Fairbanks, Klein (Loe, Wolter), 14:03. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, Romo (Gervais, Rose), 12:29; 6. Fairbanks, Munson (Birkinbine, Hinz), 14:31; 7. Fairbanks, Wolter (Angus, Lagrone), 17:23. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-7-2—16; Fairbanks 10-10-6—26.
Goalies — Kenai River, McCarthy (26 shots, 20 saves); Fairbanks, Perry (16 shots, 15 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 4; Fairbanks 0 for 3.