FAIRBANKS - The Fairbanks Ice Dogs often cycled the puck well and created opportunities against the visiting Kenai River Brown Bears in Friday night’s North American Hockey League series opener.
Despite the persistent motion and opportunism, the Ice Dogs came up short, falling 3-2 in the contest that also was the first of 16 games this season in the ERA Alaska Cup.
The cup was created after Fairbanks and Kenai River were left as the only Alaska teams in the NAHL following the Alaska Avalanche’s move from Palmer to Johnstown, Pa., at the end of last season.
The Ice Dogs, with a pair of power play goals from Kyle Lee and 23 saves from goaltender Kevin Aldridge on Friday, led Kenai River 2-1 early in the second period before the Brown Bears rallied on special teams.
“In the first period, we were playing well and we showed up to the play,” Lee said. “In the second period, we started drifting off to our individual selves. We were not playing to the systems.”
The Ice Dogs, at 13-6-0 with 26 points in the standings, remained in second place in the West Division, three points behind the idle and first-place Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild (14-3-1) and five points ahead of the third-place Brown Bears (9-7-3).
The second game of the series, and the ERA Alaska Cup, begins at 7:30 tonight.
Lee combined with fellow forwards Patrick Newell and Garret Clemment on man-advantage goals at 1:38 into the opening period for the game’s first score, and at 5:53 of the second for a 2-1 lead before 2,242 fans in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“They create a little more space and they’re skilled players,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said of putting the three forwards on a power play unit.
A recently formed power play group led to the game-winning goal for Kenai River at 9:03 of the second period.
Brad LeLievre collected Conor Deal’s rebound and deposited it from the right edge of the crease. Zack Zulkanycz provided the other helper.
“We had been doing well in practice and coach just put us on the power play,” LeLievre said. “We’re just trying to get it to the net.”
LeLievre, along with defenseman Ryan Walker, also assisted on Lucas Kohl’s goal that evened the score at 1 at 6:14 of the first period.
Dylan Meier generated another tie (2-2) for Kenai River at 7:37 of the second with an unassisted shorthanded goal after he blocked a shot and carried the puck along the left wing.
“He was just flying,” Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said. “He took a shot, which he had been asking him to do, and he got his own rebound.”
Gustaf Johansson recorded 30 saves for the Brown Bears, who gained a rare win in the Dipper along with taking a 1-0 lead in the ERA Alaska Cup series.
“It’s a small milestone and it’s a good way to start off a 16-game series,” David said.
The Ice Dogs hope to the even the cup standings tonight.
“We’ve got to drive to the net with passion,” Lee said.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.