The Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 on Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena to advance to the Midwest Division finals with a 3-2 series victory.
Kyle Lee, who had missed Games 2 through 4 with an injury, had the game-winner 4:44 into the overtime period to send the sellout crowd of 2,242 into a frenzy.
The loss means Kenai Peninsula junior hockey fans are once again left cursing the Ice Dogs.
Through three seasons of Junior B hockey, then seven seasons of Brown Bears hockey, Fairbanks has always had the better record and advanced further in the playoffs than the team based on the Peninsula.
The Brown Bears are getting tantalizingly close to changing all that.
“I’m just extremely proud of the way we competed the entire series,” said Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant, a former Fairbanks assistant. “It’s unfortunate we had to lose tonight, but I thought everyone put their best foot forward and gave everything they had.”
Kenai River is now 0-5 in playoff series against the Dogs, and 0-6 in all series as a franchise, but before last season the Bears had never won a playoff game.
Last season, they lost 3-2 in Game 5 to Fairbanks, with the game-winner scored with 1:02 left in the third period.
This season, the Bears pushed the Dogs even further, nearly getting three wins in five playoff games after getting three wins against the Dogs in 16 regular-season games.
“It’s unfortunate that these two clubs had to battle 21 times this year, and we came out on the losing end,” Beauparlant said. “But tonight was an entire team effort, I can’t single anyone out.”
Fairbanks, the North American Hockey League regular season champion which will have home ice throughout the playoffs, advances to play the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, which defeated the Minnesota Wilderness in Game 5 on Saturday. Fairbanks last won the Robertson Cup in 2011.
Kenai River scored first in the game, normally a good sign. Coming into the game, the Bears were 5-1-1 against the Dogs this season when scoring first.
Frankie Spellman struck first just 1:26 into the game on assists by RJ Salvato and Jacob Davidson.
But Fairbanks closed the first on goals by Wyatt Ege and Hans Gorowsky for a 2-1 advantage. Ege’s goal was a power-play tally, with Fairbanks finishing 1 or 5 with the extra man, and Kenai River 0 for 3.
The team with the most power-play goals won every game of the series.
Kenai River drew even in the second period on another goal by Spellman, this time assisted by Alec Butcher and Gustav Berglund.
“Both of his goals were nice plays,” Beauparlant said. “The first one was a 2-on-1 opportunity, and the second was a 3-on-2 that had good execution.”
Beauparlant said the game-winner by Lee in overtime was a shot that was redirected originally but the Bears missed a shooter in front of the net.
“(Lee) was there and caught the rebound,” Beauparlant said.
The Bears won the second period despite getting outshot 14-2. Kenai River goalie Zach Quinn had 43 saves for the game, while Kevin Aldridge had 18 saves.
The Bears fell to 2-9 in the playoffs in Fairbanks.
“The bottom line is we had the opportunity to win in the playoffs,” Beauparlant added. “I just want to thank all the fans that came up here and supported us.”
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 1 1 0 0 —2
Fairbanks 2 0 0 1 —3
First period — 1. Kenai River, Spellman (Salvato, Davidson), 1:26; 2. Fairbanks, Ege (Lagrone, Gervais), pp, 8:17; 3. Fairbanks, Gorowsky (Lee, Lagrone), 15:14. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Fairbanks 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 4. Kenai River, Spellman (Butcher, Berglund), 3:48. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period — none. Penalties — Kenai River 1 for 2:00; Fairbanks 2 for 4:00.
Overtime — 5. Fairbanks, Lee (Clary), 4:44. Penalties — none.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 7-2-10-1—20; Fairbanks 13-14-15-4—46.
Goalies — Kenai River, Quinn (46 shots, 43 saves); Fairbanks, Aldridge (20 shots, 18 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 0 for 3; Fairbanks 1 for 5.