Last season, it took the Fairbanks Ice Dogs until the final game of the season to wrap up the Era Alaska Cup.
This season, it took them until the final game before Christmas break.
The Ice Dogs defeated the Brown Bears 3-2 on Saturday in front of 498 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to improve to 9-1 against the Bears this year.
That makes the Dogs impossible to catch in the season-long, 16-game battle for Alaska junior hockey supremacy.
“It’s always good to compete for something like that,” Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant said of the cup. “There were three games we felt like we could have won that didn’t go our way and we felt we were the better club in some of the games we lost.
“You always want to win the trophy. At the same time, we have half our season left and we’ll come back ready to compete in the second half.”
The Ice Dogs, winners of 11 of 12, are now 21-8-0, which gives them 42 points that is tops in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division and the whole NAHL.
The Bears, losers of 13 of 15, fall to 14-13-3. Kenai River is tied for fourth place and the final playoff spot in the Midwest Division.
The Bears are off until Dec. 27 when they play at the Minnesota Wilderness.
“I don’t think there was much difference between the two teams tonight,” Beauparlant said. “We competed hard and deserved a better fate than we were handed.
“We had a lot of intensity tonight.”
After a scoreless first period, Fairbanks went up 2-0 in the second period on goals by Todd Burgess and Hans Gorowsky.
With just 27 seconds left in the second period, Matt Rudin cut it to 2-1 on assists from Eric Purcell and Nathan Colwell. Beauparlant said is was a well-executed two-on-one. The coach said the Bears had three other two-on-ones that we not executed correctly.
With 14:26 left in the game, Chandler Madry made it 3-1 on a power-play goal. Purcell, on assists from Gustav Berglund and Rudin, cut it to 3-2 with 2:09 to play with an extra attacker.
“We then had a couple of really good chances, but the puck didn’t bounce our way,” Beauparlant said.
Zach Quinn had 33 saves for the Bears, while Kevin Aldridge had 26 saves for the Ice Dogs.
“Zach Quinn was solid again,” the coach said. “He’s a battler. He really held us in.”
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 2
Fairbanks 0 2 1 —3
Kenai River 0 1 1 —2
First period — none. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Second period — 1. Fairbanks, Burgess (Hetz, Munter), 3:27; 2. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Munter, T. Munson), 8:52; 3. Kenai River, Rudin (Purcell, Colwell), 19:33. Penalties — Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Third period — 4. Fairbanks, Madry (Burgess), pp, 5:34; 5. Kenai River, Purcell (Berglund, Rudin), 17:51. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal — Fairbanks 13-14-9—36; Kenai River 8-12-8—28.
Goalies — Fairbanks, Aldridge (28 shots, 26 saves); Kenai River, Quinn (36 shots, 33 saves).
Power plays — Fairbanks 1 for 5; Kenai River 0 for 4.