What a difference a night made.
On Friday, the Kenai River Brown Bears set a season high for goals in a 10-4 victory over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Sports Center in front of 715 fans. The Brown Bears were 3-for-6 on the power play.
On Saturday, Fairbanks goalie Joe Phillippi, who was yanked on Friday, shut the Bears out in a 3-0 loss in front of 1,009 at the sports center. The Bears were 0-for-8 on the power play in getting blanked for the second time this year.
With the loss, the Brown Bears came up short of setting a franchise mark for victories in a season, although there is plenty of time left for that. Kenai River also had a four-game winning streak snapped.
The Brown Bears (14-11-2) are now in a three-way tie for second place in the North American Hockey League West Division. The Ice Dogs and Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild also have 30 points. The Alaska Avalanche of Palmer lead the division with 34 points.
Kenai River will be back in action on Dec. 10 and 11 in Fairbanks. The next home game for the Brown Bears will not be until Jan. 6.
An outburst on offense highlighted the victory on Friday, but the game's hero got it done defensively. Brett Lubanski was voted player of the game by his teammates for a strong effort on defense.
It was Lubanski who put his body, stick and pads in front of all the shots when the Ice Dogs pulled their goalie to create a three-man advantage trailing by two goals midway through the third period.
Consecutive penalties against the Bears left them with three men on the ice for nearly two minutes, holding a 6-4 lead with 9:36 to play, but the Ice Dogs failed to score.
Back against the wall, facing an onslaught of shots, Kenai River's captain stood tall in front of goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who earned his sixth win in his past seven starts.
"He basically just told us to take a deep breath," Lubanski said of Kenai River coach Oliver David's message to the team during a timeout prior to the pivotal power play. "He said we had to be willing to put our bodies on the line."
Although Fairbanks controlled the puck on Kenai River's side of the ice for the better part of those two minutes, the Ice Dogs came away with nothing.
In fact, as time expired on the power play, the Bears all but sealed the victory on Doug Beck's second goal of the game, giving Kenai River a 7-4 advantage.
The Ice Dogs, who suffered a two-game sweep in Soldotna against the Bears in October, pulled their goalie for much of the final six minutes in effort to generate immediate offense.
The move backfired, however, as Kyle Keenan, Zack Capozza and Sean Muller tallied scores in a span of 1:25 to complete the blowout for the Bears. Kenai River's previous season-high for goals in a game was six.
"They had to press and press and press, and it just left some openings," David said of the Ice Dogs pulling their goalie. "They had to sacrifice defense for offense, and we were able to capitalize."
The flood of goals may have delighted the crowd, and looked impressive on paper, but David's post-game message focused on the importance of playing solid defense and converting on special teams.
If Fairbanks had scored while on the three-man advantage, the complexion of the game would have changed.
Instead, the Bears secured two more important points in the NAHL West.
"It's an incredible feeling," Lubanski said. "It was back and forth the entire game, but the guys just kept fighting."
Nobody in the building would have predicted a 10-goal effort from Kenai after the first period.
Fairbanks held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, opening the scoring at the 15:23 mark of the first when Alexander Jensen followed a deflected shot and took the puck on his left side, slipping it past Dahlstrom inside the right post. JT Osborn was credited with the assist.
Then, with just over a minute to play, Zach Vierling made it 2-0 on an assist from Gabe Levin in the waning seconds of a power play.
It was all Kenai in the second period.
The Bears scored four goals in five minutes to turn a two-goal deficit into a two-goal advantage.
The scoring barrage began with 11:22 to left in the period on a bang-bang combination, with Trent Wohlers hitting Chris Rial on the left wing and Rial crossing it to an open Jesse Ramsey, who slapped the puck past starting goaltender Phillippi from the right side.
Less than a minute later, Beck snuck a slap shot beyond the reach of Phillippi for the equalizer with the Bears on the power play. Lubanski and Brad Duwe earned assists.
Then, on the power play again inside nine minutes, Eric Persson finished another assist from Duwe and Rial to give Kenai River its first lead.
Rial and Oldrich Kotvan both received five-minute penalties for fighting shortly after Kenai River took the lead. The 6-foot-5 Rial and 6-3 Kotvan, two burly defensemen, exchanged punches before falling to the ice and being sent to the box.
With Rial and Kotvan in the box, Matt Thompson completed the flurry of goals with 6:06 remaining, notching one of his two goals for the game to make it 4-2.
After the fourth tally, Fairbanks coach Josh Hauge yanked Phillippi, substituting in Steve Perry.
Three of the four goals come with Kenai on the power play.
"You have to convert on special teams -- just like with extra points in football -- you have to get those," David said.
After the Ice Dogs cut it to 4-3, Thompson scored again to bump the lead to two. Kyle Keenan then found the back of the net to make it 6-3.
That led to one more Fairbanks score before Kenai buried the Ice Dogs with the four late goals.
"The guys played selflessly," David said. "If we continue to do that, then we'll be headed in the right direction."
On Saturday, Tyler Voigt scored two first-period goals for the Ice Dogs, while Jensen finished up the scoring in the third period.
Phillippi had 25 saves, while Dahlstrom had 23 saves.
Brown Bears 10, Ice Dogs 4
Fairbanks 2 1 1 --4
Kenai River 0 4 6 --10
First period -- 1. Fairbanks, Jensen (Osborn), 4:35; 2. Fairbanks, Vierling (Levin), 18:42. Penalties -- Fairbanks 2 for 4:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Second period -- 3. Kenai River, Ramsey (Wohlers, Rial), 8:33; 4. Kenai River, Beck (Lubanski, Duwe), pp, 9:42; 5. Kenai River, Persson (Rial, Duwe), pp, 11:19; 6. Kenai River, Thompson (Muller, Ware), pp, 13:43; 7. Fairbanks, Voigt (Kotvan), pp, 17:44. Penalties -- Fairbanks 5 for 13:00; Kenai River 3 for 9:00.
Third period -- 8. Kenai River, Thompson (Ware, Muller), 1:55; 9. Kenai River, Keenan (Wright, Frere), 7:50; 10. Fairbanks, Osborn (unassisted), 8:36; 11. Kenai River, Beck (Duwe), sh, 12:23; 12. Kenai River, Keenan (Wright, Frere), 17:30; 13. Kenai River, Capozza (Ramsey, Topf), 17:57; 14. Kenai River, Muller (Walker, Beck), 18:55. Penalties -- Fairbanks none; Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Shots on goal -- Fairbanks 11-8-30--39; Kenai River 8-15-8--31.
Goalies -- Fairbanks, Phillippi (23 shots-19 saves), Perry (8 shots-2 saves) ; Kenai River, Dahlstrom (39 shots-35 saves).
Power plays -- Fairbanks 1 for 8; Kenai River 3 for 6.
Ice Dogs 3, Brown Bears 0
Fairbanks 2 0 1 --3
Kenai River 0 0 0 --0
First period -- 1. Fairbanks, Voigt (Zajac, Spratte), ea, 5:58; 2. Fairbanks, Voigt (ORourke), pp, 10:38. Penalties -- Fairbanks 3 for 6:00; Kenai River 4 for 8:00.
Second period -- none. Penalties -- Fairbanks 5 for 10:00; Kenai River 4 for 16:00.
Third period -- 3. Fairbanks, Jensen (Carlston), 10:11. Penalties -- Fairbanks 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 2 for 4:00.
Shots on goal -- Fairbanks 12-4-10--26; Kenai River 6-15-4--25.
Goalies -- Fairbanks, Phillippi (25 shots, 25 saves); Dahlstrom (26 shots, 23 saves).
Power plays -- Fairbanks 1 for 6; Kenai River 0 for 8.
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