Take heart, Peninsula residents. Ice eventually breaks. It broke in a big way for the Kenai River Brown Bears in Fairbanks on Saturday night.
With an overall postseason record of 0-13 entering the night, the Brown Bears stepped into the winners column with a 2-1 victory over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Big Dipper Arena in Fairbanks. Alex Jackstadt had the game-winner on a power play with 10 minutes, 32 seconds, left in regulation. He was assisted by Alec Butcher and Vince Stefan.
“We’re on a big upswing right now,” Jackstadt said after the game via cellphone. “We kept it simple, chipped pucks, won races and it paid off.”
Before winning Saturday, the Bears had only come within a goal of winning a playoff game once.
Kenai River was also 0-10 against the Ice Dogs in postseason play, and 0-7 at the Big Dipper. The win knots up the first round of the North American Hockey League Western Division series 1-1.
“We got it on the road in arguably the toughest place to win, and we did it in dramatic fashion,” Bears head coach Oliver David said, his voice still hoarse from shouting commands to his team over the din of the sellout crowd of 2,242.
David said that Jackstadt is tied in the league for the most game-winning goals with eight, and technically tops everyone with a ninth, shootout game-winner earlier this season.
“He was our MVP mostly for that reason,” David said. “It’s pretty fitting he gets it.”
The win also assures Kenai River of hosting two playoff games next weekend at the Soldotna Sports Center, which puts them in a good position to not only get their second-ever postseason win, but to win the series.
The games will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“We have home-ice advantage the next two games, which is great,” David said. “It’s a great team effort tonight, and I’m really proud of the guys.”
While getting the first playoff win in franchise history was a team goal, Jackstadt said the Bears quickly have moved past that.
“We’re definitely going for the series,” he said. “We got a nice point here. It’s one of the tougher rinks to play at, and they’re a great team, but it was our night tonight.”
Jackstadt said the Bears carried the momentum from a strong third period in Friday’s 3-1 loss into the game Saturday.
Judd Loewenstein put the Bears on the board first with a goal 7:42 into the game, but Lawrence Cornellier put Fairbanks back into the equation by netting a shot just over four minutes later.
Jackstadt’s goal, his 21st of the season, came at a crucial moment on a shot off the post.
“Stefan made a tape-to-tape pass to Butcher on the far blue line, got the breakout, and Butcher stepped over the blue line,” David said. “Jackstadt had the opening down the middle and took a well-placed shot off the post, and he had a defender in front of him. It was an outstanding play.”
Jackstadt said he saw Matt Seidel streaking to the net. He said David tells him to shoot when a player is streaking toward the net, and the tactic paid off.
Marcus Zelzer saved 29 of 30 shots in goal for the Bears, and received the win.
“Our team wanted it really bad,” Jackstadt said. “We look forward to playing them at home.
“It was a great team effort. Our goalie really kept us in the game.”
David said the business of junior hockey can sometimes be difficult with a postseason record like the Bears had, but Saturday night vindicates the team. He called it the biggest win in franchise history.
“If you’re in a business like this and everything relies on your competition, it’s a constant battle to produce,” he said. “We’ve had great wins before. We’ve swept Wenatchee and Fairbanks on the road. But in the playoffs, on the road after losing game one, and facing a 2-0 deficit, we came through.”
David said he is eagerly awaiting the homestand next weekend, and said he expects the Soldotna Sports Center to be packed.
“I expect the place to be filled. We’ve done everything we could, we’ve gone the extra mile, and these guys come into our town from all over the world,” David said. “I think our image in the community is that of a good one, and rightfully so. We enjoy being recognized, and it’s about time we all rally together and fill that place.”
In Western playoff action, the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild and Fresno (Calif.) Monsters are tied at 1 after Fresno notched a 3-1 victory in Wenatchee on Saturday.
Brown Bears 2, Ice Dogs 1
Kenai River 1 0 1 —2
Fairbanks 1 0 0 —1
First period — 1. Kenai River, Loewenstein (Lazzaro, Bushey), 7:42; 2. Fairbanks, Cornellier (Birkinbine, Loe), pp, 11:47. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Jackstadt (Butcher, Stefan), pp, 9:28. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 11-9-7—27; Fairbanks 10-10-10—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Zelzer (30 shots, 29 saves); Fairbanks, Perry (27 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 1 for 2; Fairbanks 1 for 4.