The Kenai River Brown Bears lost their third straight game, dropping a 3-1 contest to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Friday at the Big Dipper Arena in the "Golden Heart City."
Since their recent eight-game win streak ended with a weekend sweep to the Austin (Minn.) Bruins a week ago, the Brown Bears are stuck at 24 points in the Midwest Division of the North American Hockey League standings. The squad is five points behind the division leader, Minnesota Wilderness, while Fairbanks is two behind Kenai River in the battle for second place.
On Friday night, Kenai River struggled to find momentum, and once the Bears did, it was too late, said head coach Geoff 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.
"In the third, it wasn't about desperation, we just started to play the way we play. 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."
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.
The Ice Dogs stretched their lead in the ERA Cup over Kenai River to 3-0, having won the first two games in Soldotna in September.
Beauparlant also noted the worthy performances of forwards Steven Butts, Tommy Dierl and Sam Bratten.
Fairbanks and Kenai River will meet again Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. tilt in Fairbanks.
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.