Kenai River Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant returned to his former home ice on Friday and Saturday and left with two losses, as the Fairbanks Ice Dogs swept the weekend with wins of 3-1 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday at the Big Dipper in Fairbanks.
Saturday night marked the fourth straight loss for Kenai River (12-7), and the win gave Fairbanks (12-7) another two points in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division standings, tying up the two squads for second place with 24 points each. The Minnesota Wilderness (14-2-3) lead the Midwest with 31 points.
The win also gave the Ice Dogs a 4-0 edge in the ERA Alaska Cup — having won the first two games in Soldotna in September — which is awarded to the season series winner between Kenai River and Fairbanks.
“I thought we played extremely well, we certainly deserved a better result than what we got,” Beauparlant said. “We controlled about two-thirds of the game, but their goaltender played a solid game.”
Of course, Beauparlant would know a thing or two about Fairbanks’ goalie, Kevin Aldridge, who let only one of 33 shots through.
“It was a warm welcome with the people,” Beauparlant said. “Alaska is just a great state for hockey. There’s a lot of knowledgeable people here, and it was just good to renew frindships.
“But we came here to get two wins, and we didn’t do that.”
On Saturday, in front of a crowd of 2,242, two early goals put the Dogs up within the first 7 minutes, 53 seconds of the game. Viktor Liljegren and Ben Campbell each notched a goal, while Taylor Munson had assists on both.
With 2:43 remaining in the first period, Matt Rudin was able to direct the puck past Fairbanks goalie Kevin Aldridge for an easy goal, closing the gap to 2-1 for the Brown Bears. Conor Deal and Jack Gessert provided the assists.
“It started with a good forecheck, and we won a 50-50 battle,” Beauparlant said. “Rudin got lost in the back, and Conor ripped a good pass. It was a pretty nice goal.”
However, Colton Wolter extended Fairbanks’ lead late in the second period to 3-1 on a power play opportunity, and although Kenai River would outshoot Fairbanks 12-8 in the third period, they would get no more goals. To add insult to injury, Fairbanks notched two empty-netters in the final 1:15 of the game.
Kenai River’s Kris Oldham took only his second loss of the season in goal, saving 25 of 28 shots.
“We’re going to have a hard week of practice, and the only way to get out of this mini streak is to work hard,” Beaparlant said.
On Friday night, Kenai River struggled to find momentum, and once the Bears did, it was too late, said Beauparlant. Not surprisingly, the Ice Dogs came out with a lot of energy after losing five of seven heading into Friday. Beauparlant, an assistant in Fairbanks for three seasons before taking over as the head man at Kenai River this season, lost in his return to Fairbanks.
“The bottom line is we weren’t moving our feet,” Beauparlant said. “They wanted it more and they came out with more energy. They were putting everyone at net and we were standing around watching them play.”
The struggles of the Bears were made apparent in the second period when the Dogs outshot the Bears 19-3. In the third period, Kenai River responded by outshooting Fairbanks 14-6.
“In the third, it wasn’t about desperation, we just started to play the way we play,” Beauparlant said. “But for some reason, it didn’t happen until the third period, and we’re trying to figure out why.”
The Ice Dogs struck first with seven minutes left in the first period with a goal from Tayler Munson, but the Bears responded quickly with a shot from Jake Bushey only 23 seconds later to tie it up, with an assist from Zach Zulkanycz.
“It was excellent execution, it was a 3-on-2, and Jake jumped into the rush,” Beauparlant said.
But a little over a minute later, Fairbanks jumped back in front when Duggie Lagrone slipped the puck past Kenai River goalie Zach Quinn. Quinn saved 31 of 34 shots on the night.
Fairbanks added an insurance goal 6:35 into the second period when Brett Gervais popped the puck up and over the glove of Quinn.
Beauparlant said three critical errors were made on each goal by Fairbanks. A bad line change on the first one, a bad pass on the second and a missed assignment by a defender on the third cost the team.
“It’s one of those nights, I mean, we have a chance to split the series (with Fairbanks) and now this weekend’s a wash,” Beauparlant said. “As an organization, we’re afraid to take that next step into the elite tier. In order to do that, you have to beat those Austin and Fairbanks teams.”
Beauparlant also noted the worthy performances of forwards Steven Butts, Tommy Dierl and Sam Bratten.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Fairbanks 2 1 0 —3
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Munson (Liljegren, Lagrone) 13:00; 2. Kenai River, Bushey (Zulkanycz) 13:23; 3. Fairbanks, Lagrone (Lee, Vedel) 14:31. Penalties — Fairbanks 3 for 9:00; Kenai River 2 for 7:00.
Second period — 4. Fairbanks, Gervais (Wolter) 6:35. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 9:00; Fairbanks 3 for 9:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-3-14—24; Fairbanks 9-19-6—34.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (31 saves, 34 shots); Fairbanks, Aldridge (23 saves, 24 shots).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 2; Fairbanks 0 for 2.
Ice Dogs 5, Brown Bears 1
Kenai River 1 0 0 —1
Fairbanks 2 1 2 —5
First period — 1. Fairbanks, Liljegren (Munson, Wolter) 4:16; 2. Fairbanks, Campbell (Munson) 7:53; 3. Kenai River, Rudin (Deal, Gessert) 17:17.
Second period — 4. Fairbanks, Wolter (Munson, Liljegren) pp, 17:46. Penalties — Kenai River 5 for 10:00; Fairbanks 4 for 8:00.
Third period — 5. Fairbanks, Munson (Wolter) EN, 18:45; 6. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Mueller, Clary) EN, 19:48. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 12-9-12—33; Fairbanks 13-9-8—30.
Goalies — Kenai River, Oldham (28 shots, 25 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (33 shots, 32 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0-4; Fairbanks 1-3.