FAIRBANKS — Devin Loe smiled at the notion that he didn’t have to move to score the game-winning goal for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
It was a contrast to Friday night’s victory by the same score in the opener of the North American Hockey League series between the West Division rivals and participants in the inaugural ERA Alaska Cup. The first-year Ice Dogs left wing had to burst along the boards to deliver a crossing pass to Garret Clemment for the game-winner with 6-tenths of a second left on the scoreboard clock.
All Loe had to do Saturday was be in the right place at the right time. At 3:24 into the third period, Loe parked at the right edge to the crease to collect Chandler Madry’s backdoor pass and pop it in an open right side of the net to snap a 2-2 tie and eventually secure a weekend sweep for the second-place Ice Dogs (20-8-0).
“It was nice. I put myself in the right position and Chandler Madry made a great play, passing it across the crease,” Loe said. “I just set myself up to put it in the back of the net, fortunately.”
Logan Wendling also assisted on the game-winner, which was one of the rare times this season that Fairbanks found an open portion of the net against Brown Bears goaltender Gustaf Johansson, who takes up a lot of space in the crease with his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame.
“He’s beat us three times. He’s a very good goaltender and he takes up a lot of the net, and it gives us problems,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said of Johansson, who had 33 saves Saturday.
The Ice Dogs, who also got goals from forward Colton Wolter and defenseman Nick Hinz to support Kevin Aldridge’s 30-save effort, gave the third-place Brown Bears (12-12-4) problems during the last two periods.
Before Hinz evened the score at 2-2 at 4:06 into the second period, the Ice Dogs had enjoyed a few lengthy cycles. Before Loe capitalized on Madry’s feed, the Fairbanks had generated second, third and even fourth chances in the Brown Bears zone.
“The first five minutes of the second period, they outplayed us and got a payoff,” Kenai River coach Oliver David said. “I thought we responded in the second five minutes of the second period, but we did not get payoffs.
“Then to start the first five minutes of the third, they got a payoff,” David added. “I thought we were on the aggressive and we were able to do some things that we wanted. We didn’t capitalize and they had a very good goal for the game-winner, capitalizing on a missed assignment for our defensemen.”
The Ice Dogs’ sweep evened the ERA Alaska Cup Series at 3-3 with 10 games left between the teams.
David hopes the rest of the series is as competitive as this weekend’s contests in the Dipper were.
“I hope they stay around the level they’re at and the way that they’re going,” said David, “because for us, it’s a good thing to be in the game for 60 minutes.”
Hinz, with helpers from Wolter and Garret Clemment, tied the game at 2 by stepping up into the left circle and drilling in a shot off of the crossbar.
Forward Albin Karlsson figured into both Kenai River leads in the first period.
Karlsson, with assists from Alec Butcher and Alex Jackstadt, provided the game’s first goal at 6:24 of the opening period, lining a shot from the top of the slot pasta screen and through Aldridge’s pads.
Wolter, with the aid of Patrick Newell and Hinz, made it 1-1 for Fairbanks at 16:03 of the first by scorching in a wrist shot from the left circle while being covered by a trio of Brown Bears.
Forty seven seconds later, Kenai River defenseman Bryan Hodges collected Karlsson’s feed and burst through the slot to flip the tie-breaking puck over Aldridge’s glove-side shoulder. Jake Bushey also assisted for his second point of the weekend.
The Ice Dogs continue West Division play on the road, facing the fourth-place Fresno Monsters in Fresno, Calif., on Dec. 28-30 and the division-leading Wenatchee Wild in Wenatchee, Wash., on Jan. 4-6.
The Ice Dogs return to the Dipper later in January for a pair of series against North Division squads. Fairbanks plays host to the Janesville (Wis.) Jets on Jan. 11-12 and the Springfield (Mo.) Jr. Blues on Jan. 18-19.