Plays showcasing youth, inexperience and nerves don’t show up on the coaches’ film later against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Those plays show up on the scoreboard.
The Ice Dogs, returning 14 from a team that came within a game of winning the West Division playoffs last season, defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 5-1 on Friday before 661 fans at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Last season, the Dogs did not win at the sports center until March 1 on their fifth try, but this season they won in the season opener for both teams.
“It’s nice to know we are able to win and compete here,” Fairbanks coach Trevor Stewart said after his squad took a 1-0 lead in the ERA Alaska Cup.
Friday also marked the debut of new Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant, who had spent the last three seasons as a Fairbanks assistant.
“I think we played hard in spurts,” Beauparlant said. “There were times we put pressure on them.
“Our inexperience showed, but that’s not an excuse. We have to play more consistently.”
The first period was dead even on shots at 9 apiece. The only goal came midway through the period, when the Bears got caught on a long shift and Duggie Lagrone, the Colorado College recruit, scored on a three-on-two.
Beauparlant said he counted five good scoring chances for the Bears during the first period. He said cashing in on one or two would have set a different tone in the game.
“We have to bear down on those scoring chances,” he said.
Stewart agreed the Bears put some heat on the Dogs, but said goalie Kevin Aldridge, already committed to Lake Superior State University, did a good job of weathering the storm.
In the second period, the nerves and inexperience of the Bears were on display.
Kenai River struggled settling the puck and escaping the defensive zone. The Dogs pounced, outshooting Kenai River 17-5.
Thanks to David Kaplan and Lonnie Clary goals, the Dogs led 3-0 with 11:13 left in the period.
And had it not been for some sterling saves by Bears goalie Zach Quinn, it would have been worse.
“The decision-making at the blue line, offensively and defensively, was poor,” Beauparlant said. “I’m not pulling any punches.
“We made bad decisions and they put them in the back of the net.”
Brad LeLievre is one of nine Brown Bears returning from a squad that went 8-8 against the Dogs last year, although that number was technically eight on Friday because defenseman Vince Stefan is out with an injury.
LeLievre said the poor second period was a case of opening-night nerves keeping the Bears from doing the basics, like bodying attackers, clearing the puck out of the zone and getting the puck deep in the offensive zone.
“We have a lot of young guys and a lot of learning to do,” LeLievre said. “It was the first game for a lot of the guys, and it’s easy to get nervous in the first game.
“We got that out of the way, and now we can play like I know we can play.”
After the second goal of the second period, Beauparlant called a timeout to settle his team down and tell the players to get back to the basics.
It worked until late in the period, when Kenai River had just killed a power play, but then turned the puck over in the defensive zone leading to a Kyle Lee tally.
Another defensive breakdown just 21 seconds into the third period led to a Viktor Liljegren breakaway and a 5-0 lead.
Beauparlant was happy his team did not go into a shell after that. The shots were 10-9 in the third in favor of Fairbanks.
With 8:36 left in the game, the Bears were finally able to get the first frozen fish of the season tossed onto the ice.
Judd Loewenstein went behind the net and found Alec Butcher, who slid the puck across the net to the sure finish of Albin Karlsson, the Niagara University recruit.
Kenai River also hit two pipes and had two breakaways in the third.
“If we could have finished a few of those opportunities, we could have made it a ballgame with five minutes left,” Beauparlant said.
The coach said Quinn had a great debut.
“He was the heart and soul of the team tonight,” LeLievre said.
Beauparlant said Jake Bushey was solid on the blue line, and Zack Zulkanycz provided a spark at forward.
He said the team’s top-performing line was Conor Deal, Jack Gessert and Tommy Dierl.
Having worked with Beauparlant for two years, Stewart doesn’t expect too many nights like Friday.
“That team is young but they have a good coach,” Stewart said. “They are going to improve quickly.”
The same two teams drop the puck Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the sports center.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 1
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Lagrone (Madry, Clary), 10:45. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Second period — 2. Fairbanks, Kaplan (Gorowsky), 6:47; 3. Fairbanks, Clary (Madry), 8:47; 4. Fairbanks, Lee (Hetz), 18:27. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 5. Liljegren (Munson, Wolter), 0:21; 6. Kenai River, Karlsson (Loewenstein, Butcher), 11:24.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 9-17-10—36; Kenai River 9-5-9—23.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Aldridge (23 shots, 22 saves); Kenai River, Quinn (36 shots, 31 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 0 for 2; Kenai River 0 for 2.