FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs were a perfect example Friday night of playing until the final buzzer sounds.
Left wing Garret Clemment seized a 3-2 victory for the Ice Dogs against the Kenai River Brown Bears just 6-tenths of a second before the end of the opening game of a North American Hockey League series in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“Our team is a great group of guys, and they’re going to play until the end, right until that buzzer sounds,” Clemment said amid a throng of fans and teammates in the Big Dipper lobby, not long after he scored the game-winner on a 2-on-2 breakaway with Devin Loe, who finished with a two-point night.
“We never had a doubt. We had a good group of guys out there, and I trust everyone of them to make that play at the end,” said Clemment, who leads Fairbanks in goals (13) and points (27).
The winning goal for the Ice Dogs, second place in the West Division at 19-8-0, occurred after they broke up a 2-on-1 rush by the third-place Brown Bears (12-11-4) with 7.3 seconds left in the seesaw contest.
The defensive effort, though, didn’t quite put Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart at ease after he had seen the game go from a scoreless first period to a 1-1 deadlock in the second period to a 2-all status late in the third.
“I was frightened because they came down on a 2-on-1 and (goaltender Kevin) Aldridge had to make a big save,” said Stewart, “and they committed most of their team to the rush because they didn’t think there was enough time for us to go back down and score.”
Defenseman Doug Rose collected the rebound of Aldridge’s 14th and final save and chipped it ahead to Loe, who carried the puck along the left wing. Loe cross-passed to Clemment, who redirected his effort over the glove side of Brown Bears netminder Gustaf Johansson (19 saves).
The win also trimmed Kenai River’s lead to 3-2 in the inaugural ERA Alaska Cup Series. The 16-game series resumes with tonight’s contest at 7:30 in the Dipper.
Defenseman Jake Vance had put Kenai River ahead 2-1 early in the third period before Fairbanks forward Patrick Newell responded for the game’s third tie.
Vance, just two seconds after Kenai River killed Fairbanks’ fifth power play of the night, corralled Alec Butcher’s pass at the left point and flung a backhand that cleared a screen and snuck by Aldridge’s blocker-side elbow at 5:23 into the third. Alex Jackstadt also assisted.
Newell made it 2-2 at 12:14, scoring from the left side of the crease with a rebound of Kyle Lee’s shot from the top of the slot. Ben Campbell got his fifth assist of the season on the play.
The teams tied the score at 1 during a penalty-rich second period, as the Ice Dogs registered six infractions and the Brown Bears eight. The division and intrastate rivals also skated on three power plays apiece in the period.
The Ice Dogs evened the score at 8:41 into the period with their first power play goal of the weekend, as Loe collected Jayson Angus’ short crossing pass in front of the crease and one-timed it past Johansson’s glove side. Zack Rall started the play with a pass from the high slot.
Kenai River defenseman Jake Bushey, with assists from Zac Lazarro and Dylan Meier, provided the weekend’s first score by lobbing the puck from the top of the left circle and over Aldridge’s glove at 5:50 into the second period.
The teams matched shots — five apiece — in the first period. Each team missed on a power-play chance in the opening 20 minutes, and for the night, Fairbanks was 1 for 7 with the extra skater while Kenai River was 0 for 5.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.