Alec Thieda waited a long time for this one.
Thieda, 20, netted the first game-winning goal of his career to propel the Kenai River Brown Bears past the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage 4-3 in overtime in front of 1,009 fans Friday evening at the Soldotna Sports Center.
On Saturday, Dawson Creek scored five times in the second period to erase a two-goal deficit in a 6-3 win before 1,050 fans in the regular-season finale at the sports center.
The Bears finish the season fourth in the North American Hockey League West Division at 27-24-7 for 61 points, while the Rage take fifth at 24-31-3 for 51 points.
Kenai River faces the first-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the first round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Fairbanks.
Thieda, acquired in a trade from the Texas Tornado in January, hadn't scored a goal in 17 games with the Brown Bears -- let alone a game-winner.
Less than a minute into overtime, the defender took a crossing pass from Doug Beck on the left wing and blasted a shot toward the crease.
The puck was deflected by a Rage player, but didn't lose much velocity and skipped past goaltender Edward Dyson, who finished with 41 saves on 45 shots.
"It's a great feeling," said Thieda, who will be over the league's age limit next season, meaning he must find a new team. "Being in my last year, second-to-last game of the season, first game-winner of my career, I was going nuts."
The Bears needed the strike in a big way.
For the second consecutive night, the Rage erased a two-goal deficit in the third period to force extra time. On Thursday, Dawson Creek tied the game at 3 with two third-period goals in a span of 14 seconds, eventually prevailing in a shootout.
The Rage entered Friday's final period trailing 3-1 only to even the score with two goals in 31 seconds.
With 9:59 remaining, 6-foot-5 defender Evan Ripley snuck the puck inside the left post to beat goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, making it 3-2 on assists from Scott Fellnermayr and Ryan Mathews.
Before the Bears could regroup, brothers Brett and Nolan Zarazun connected for the equalizer as Nolan found Brett at the 9:28 mark.
Lucas Recknagle, who had the game-winning tally in Thursday's shootout, also earned the assist.
"We were all disappointed -- 'Oh, another game like last night,'" said Thieda, who on the ice for both Dawson Creek comeback tallies. "But we came out strong (in overtime) and controlled the puck."
In winning a franchise record 27 games, the Bears have played with the lead much of the season and have been effective at closing out victories.
Kenai River finished 24-6-4 when tied or leading after two periods. Four of those losses came when the Bears entered the third with a lead, including two against the Rage.
Kenai River coach Oliver David said the squad shifted its approach over the closing 20 minutes Friday after taking a conservative approach Thursday.
Aggressive on both ends of the ice, David said the Bears weren't content to sit on the lead for a second straight night.
A Kenai River turnover near the blue line allowed Dawson Creek to win a faceoff on the Bears' defensive end of the ice in the moments leading up to the Rage's back-to-back goals.
"We were very aggressive and kept playing and attacking, and they still scored," David said. "They tied it up two different ways and capitalized against us. We aren't going to get very far in the playoffs if we don't really tighten up."
Alex Frere gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at the 12:32 mark of the first with his 14th goal this season.
With the Bears on the power play, Frere took a pass in front of the net from Brett Lubanski, who sent the puck toward the middle from the right wing.
Lubanski earned his 47th assist on the play, while forward Doug Beck also earned the assist. Beck, the team's leading scorer with 64 points, had three assists.
The Rage found the equalizer early in the second when Recknagle flicked a backhanded strike from close range past Dahlstrom, who had 21 saves a night after logging 65 minutes in goal.
Kenai River scored twice in 21 seconds during a stretch of 4-on-4 hockey midway through the second, turning a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 advantage.
Lubanski made it 2-1 on an assist from Beck with 11:02 to play, drilling a shot past Dyson before dropping to a knee, skating toward the boards and jumping into the glass.
Then, 21 seconds later, Ryan Walker controlled a deflected shot and fired one of his own past Dyson. Frere and Kyle Keenan earned assists.
It was the Bears' first win against the Rage on home ice after losing four straight and was their first overtime win in five tries against the Canadian team.
Friday's victory, coupled with Saturday's loss, gives the Bears a 4-4-4 record against Dawson Creek, a first-year squad.
"It's great to beat them on home ice because they've been giving us a hard time," Thieda said. "They always seem to hang in games so it feels good to finally get a 'W' against them."
David praised the efforts of Shane Topf, who was acquired midway through the year, for playing his best hockey all season. The coach also credited defenseman Branden Fisher, a product of Soldotna, who also joined the team during the second half of the season.
"A couple unsung heroes, if you will," David said of Topf and Fisher. "Not getting on the scoreboard, but really doing what they are supposed to do."
After a solid first period in Saturday's loss, Kenai River goaltender Josh Benton allowed five goals in the second and was pulled at the end of the period for Dahlstrom, who played a combined 166 minutes Thursday and Friday.
Hartley scored two of the goals, while Fellnermayr and Recknagle added one apiece.
David said the spurt started with a Bears turnover and snowballed from there.
"It's kids being kids," David said. "We need guys who have composure in those moments."
For the Bears, Beck and Murphy scored, as did Kyle Keenan. Lubanski earned his team-best 48th assist on Beck's goal.
Although Saturday's loss put a damper on the final weekend of the regular season, the Bears walked away from the campaign having broken a slew of franchise records -- including most wins in a season and best home record.
The squad also finished out of last place for the first time.
"It was a great regular season. To end this way, hopefully it doesn't hold too much weight," David said. "It doesn't hold a black cloud over the season. We are in the playoffs."
Brown Bears 4, Rage 3 (OT)
Dawson Creek 0 1 2 0 --3
Kenai River 1 2 0 1 --4
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Frere (Lubanski, Beck), pp, 7:28; 2. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 2. Dawson Creek, Recknagle (Bailey, N. Zarazun), 7:22; 3. Kenai River, Lubanski (Beck), 8:58; 4. Kenai River, Walker (Frere, Keenan), 9:19. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Third period -- 5. Dawson Creek, Ripley (Fellnermayr, Mathews), pp, 10:01; 6. Dawson Creek, B. Zarazun (N. Zarazun, Recknagle), 10:32. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Overtime -- 7. Kenai River, Thieda (Walker, Beck), 0:43. No penalties.
Shots on goal -- Dawson Creek (6-10-8-0--24); Kenai River (12-21-10-2--45).
Goalies -- Dawson Creek, Dyson (45 shots, 41 saves); Kenai River, Dahlstrom (24 shots, 21 saves).
Power plays -- Dawson Creek 0 for 4; Kenai River 1 for 5.
Rage 6, Brown Bears 3
Dawson Creek 0 5 1 --6
Kenai River 2 0 1 --3
First period -- 1. Kenai River, Beck (Lubanski, Walker), pp, 10:04; 2. Kenai River, Muller (Murphy, Ramsey), 14:37. Penalties -- Dawson Creel 1 for 2:00' Kenai River 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 3. Dawson Creek, McCallum (Rossiter, Johannesson), 5:01; 4. Dawson Creek, Recknagle (Bailey, N. Zarazun), 8:52; 5. Dawson Creek, Hartley (Ripley, Mason), 12:12; 6. Dawson Creek, Fellnermayr (Petrick), 17:08; 7. Dawson Creek, Hartley (Smith, Mason), pp, 18:12. Penalties -- Dawson Creek 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 8.Dawson Creek, Petrick (Mathews, Fellnermayr), 5:49; 9. Kenai River, Keenan (Topf), . Penalties -- Dawson Creek 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 3 for 6:00.
Shots on goal -- Dawson Creek (7-17-5--29); Kenai River (14-4-10--28).
Goalies -- Dawson Creek, Dyson (28 shots, 25 saves); Kenai River, Benson (24 shots, 19 saves); Dahlstrom (5 shots, 4 saves)
Power plays -- Dawson Creek 1 for 6; Kenai River 1 for 4.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.