The Fairbanks Ice Dogs swept the Kenai River Brown Bears with a 3-2 win on Saturday night at the Soldotna Sports Center, one night after posting the same result.
The Ice Dogs improved to 2-4 at the Sports Center this season, and took a 7-5 lead in the Era Alaska Cup, the season-long battle for junior hockey supremacy between Alaska’s only two junior teams. There are four regular-season games left between the teams.
In Saturday’s game, Kenai River struck first with a goal from Albin Karlsson at 8 minutes, 40 seconds, into the game, his 10th of the season.
But, just like on Friday, Fairbanks came back to tie it up, as Lawrence Cornellier converted on a shot 34 seconds later, then took the lead and pushed it out to a two-point advantage with goals from Johnny Meuller and Conner Allison in the second period.
Brad Duwe closed to gap back to one with 3:03 left in the second period, which left the Bears with an obtainable goal in the third.
The Bears gave it everything they had in the third period, outshooting Fairbanks 15-8 in the period but came away empty, presenting the Bears with their fourth loss in a row, and a 21-23-6 record. The Bears outshot Fairbanks 40-35 overall.
Goalie Evan McCarthy saved 32 of 35 shots, and Alec Butcher and Alex Jackstadt each provided two assists.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs came back from a 2-0 deficit Friday to beat the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Soldotna Sports Center for the first time this season.
“It’s nice,” said Fairbanks coach Trevor Stewart. “It’s the old saying, ‘Get the monkey off your back.’ I thought the game could have went either way tonight.”
The North American Hockey League came in front of 601 fans.
The teams also are nearly a lock to meet in the first round of the playoffs. Wenatchee (Wash.) leads the West Division with 77 points, while Fairbanks has 69, Kenai River has 48 and Fresno (Calif.) has 34. No team has more than 12 games left to play.
“To finally get a win here helps,” said Fairbanks forward Kyle Lee, who had the game winner with 10 minutes, 19 seconds, left in the game. “We’re going to have to come back here in the first round of the playoffs.”
The Ice Dogs were able to break through at the sports center despite a tough night on special teams, particularly in the first 10 minutes of the game.
With 12:19 left in the first period, Fairbanks was on the power play when the Bears’ Alex Jackstadt picked up the puck in his defensive zone.
Jackstadt, an East High graduate, beat a Fairbanks defender cleanly, then poked a backhand through Steve Perry’s five-hole for a highlight goal.
“He’s a franchise player for us,” said Kenai River coach Oliver David of Jackstadt, who now has 17 goals and 28 points this year. “He’s a local guy and we have all the hope in the world that he continues his junior hockey career next year in a Brown Bears uniform.”
Jackstadt’s goal was the gift that kept on giving as 18 seconds later he drew a penalty. Just 31 seconds later, Mikhail Bushinski was left wide open on the weak side and converted into a nearly empty net for a 2-0 lead.
The momentum turned when a Kenai River turnover gave Fairbanks a breakaway, which turned into a penalty shot when the Fairbanks player was chopped down from behind. Colten Wolter converted the penalty shot on Evan McCarthy.
Then with 1:42 left in the first, Fairbanks’ Devin Loe squeezed in a goal from a tough angle at the bottom of the faceoff circle for a 2-all tie.
“We should have come out of the first period leading 2-0, the way we were playing,” David said.
Despite letting in a goal from that tough angle late in the first, David said McCarthy did well in making 27 saves. Perry had 24 for the Ice Dogs.
“McCarthy played a very good game,” David said. “He made some good stops.”
The second period can be summed up with two “f” words — five-minute major and fisticuffs. Matt Seidel took a five-minute major for head contact 7:05 into the period, and Kenai River killed it off with relative ease, allowing just two shots on goal and taking two shots on goal during the stretch.
Also in the second, Kenai River’s Conor Deal and Fairbanks’ Lonnie Clary dropped the gloves, with Deal probably getting the better of the skirmish that lasted for three or four flurries of fists.
Stewart said that both teams skated hard, but that neither was sharp coming off a two-week break for the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
That five-minute major was Exhibit A in Stewart’s assessment.
“We had a hard time making two passes in a row all night,” he said. “It’s hard to set anything up on the power play when that’s the case.”
The Brown Bears have given up just one power-play goal in their last 12 games and now have the ninth-best penalty kill in the league.
Lee was the difference in an even third period. Halfway through the third, Lawrence Cornellier started the game-winning play by chasing a puck down in the corner and getting it out to Zack Rall at the blue line. Rall fired on net, Lee got a tip and McCarthy made the save. But the rebound went right back to Lee and he converted.
Fairbanks then did a greedy job of protecting the lead, keeping the Bears from setting up for any sustained attacks on net.
Stewart said that was Fairbanks’ sharpest point in the game. David said the Olympic-sized sheet looks even bigger when you’re down in the final 10 minutes.
“The ice looks like the Kenai River,” he said.
David did say defenseman Vincent Stefan played well in his return. Stefan last played Jan. 6, when he sustained his second concussion of the season. The first concussion came in a car accident.
Stefan also played a key role during the second intermission. The Bears wore pink jerseys, which were auctioned off during intermissions to benefit the Central Peninsula Health Foundation. The top jersey — Stefan’s — drew $900.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bear 2
Fairbanks 1 2 0 —3
Kenai River 1 1 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Karlsson (Butcher, Jackstadt), 8:40; 2. Fairbanks, Cornellier (Birkinbine, Madry), 9:14. Penalties — none.
Second period — 3. Fairbanks, Meuller (Allison), 7:07; 4. Fairbanks, Allison (Birkinbine, Madry), 13:45; 5. Kenai River, Duwe (Butcher, Jackstadt), 16:57. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 10-15-15—40; Fairbanks 12-15-8—35.
Goalies — Kenai River, McCarthy (35 shots, 32 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (40 shots, 38 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 1; Fairbanks 0 for 2.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 2
Fairbanks 2 0 1 —3
Kenai River 2 0 0 —2
First period — 1. Kenai River, Jackstadt (un.), sh, 7:41; 2. Kenai River, Bushinski (Bushey, Davidson), 8:30; 3. Fairbanks, Wolter, penalty shot, 13:01; 4. Fairbanks, Loe (Hinz, Rall), 18:18. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 7:00; Kenai River 2 for 10:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, Lee (Rall, Cornellier), 9:41. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 12-11-7—30; Kenai River 8-12-6—26.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Perry (26 shots, 24 saves); Kenai River, McCarthy (30 shots, 27 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 4; Kenai River 1 for 2.