The Kenai River Brown Bears started the evening without sticks and ended the evening with two very big points in the race to get into the North American Hockey League playoffs.
The Brown Bears topped Fairbanks 3-2 in overtime Friday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks in front of 2,242.
The win, giving the Bears a point for the ninth time in 11 games, moves Kenai River to 24-18-6 and into a tie for fourth place and the final playoff spot out of the Midwest Division. Kenai River and Wenatchee each have 54 points. Fairbanks, at 37-13-1, still has the best record in the league by five points.
The Ice Dogs lost for just the fifth time all season at home on the opening night of military appreciation weekend. Fairbanks has clinched the Era Alaska Cup, with the season series now at 2-9.
"It's always hard to come in here and get two points," said Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant, a former Fairbanks assistant. "It's even harder when they have a big, special event.
"It was rocking in here tonight, but at the same time it's fun to play in that environment and embrace the challenge. We just can't rest on our laurels."
Kenai River's sticks were left behind on the flight up Friday, and didn't arrive in Fairbanks until 7:15 p.m. Beauparlant credited Fairbanks general manager Rob Proffitt for delaying the game 15 minutes in order to wait for the sticks.
"At first, we were a little bit shaky but we found our legs halfway through the first period and started executing a little better," Beauparlant said.
The coach credited goalie Zach Quinn for keeping the first period scoreless even though the Bears were outshot 16-6.
With 15 minutes, 50 seconds, left in the second period, the Bears forced a turnover and Jake Davidson found Nathan Colwell, who scored on a backhand.
Just 1:35 later, Alec Butcher passed to Albin Karlsson, who shot and was rewarded with an assist when Judd Loewenstein put in the rebound.
The momentum turned with 10:51 left in the second, when Wyatt Ege dumped the puck in from the red line and got a goal when it bounced in over Quinn.
"It just bounced up and over his shoulder," Beauparlant said. "He was in position. It just bounced higher than he thought it was going to, or anybody thought it was going to."
Fairbanks took that momentum and tied the game with 8:06 remaining when Yannick Vedel scored on a two-on-one.
The game would remain deadlocked until 1:16 into the extra frame, when Vince Stefan, assisted by Butcher and Jack Gessert, scored when goalie Kevin Aldridge was screened. It was the second overtime game-winner this year for Stefan.
Aldridge had 17 saves while Quinn had 31 saves.
The same two teams drop the puck at 7:30 p.m. tonight, as the Bears play the second of nine straight games on the road.
Bears 3, Ice Dogs 2, OT
First period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 1. Kenai River, Colwell (Davidson), 4:10; 2. Kenai River, Loewenstein (Karlsson, Butcher), 5:45; 3. Fairbanks, Ege (Bushey, Wolter), 9:09; 4. Fairbanks, Vedel (Lee, Somoza), 11:54. Penalties — Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 6:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — 5. Kenai River, Stefan (Butcher, Gessert), 1:16.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 6-8-5-1—20; Fairbanks 16-7-10-0—33.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (33 shots, 31 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (20 shots, 17 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 0 for 4.