FAIRBANKS — Brenden MacLaren intended for his attempt to be dump toward the Kenai River Brown Bears net Thursday night in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
It instead turned into a floating puck that brought the Fairbanks Ice Dogs closer to their goal of clinching the regular-season title in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.
MacLaren’s fascinating delivery early in the third period sealed a 3-1 win in the opener of the three-game, regular season-ending series against Fairbanks’ intrastate and division rival from Soldotna.
Goals by Matt Koethe and John Stampohar and 19 saves from goaltender Mattias Sholl helped the Midwest Division leaders improve their record to 36-16-3-3 for 78 points in the standings.
The Ice Dogs just need one more point in the standings to clinch the division’s regular-season title for the second straight year.
The Ice Dogs’ near-clinching status developed at 1:24 of the third period.
MacLaren, after getting passes from Koethe and Luke Ciolli, was defended by two Brown Bears when he skated to near the top of the right circle.
The right wing flung the puck toward Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright (37 saves) and the delivery danced over Enright’s glove hand.
“It was toward the end of our shifts and I just cut across the blueline, and I just tried throwing it in on net and go for a (shift) change,” said MacLaren, who also contributed two assists.
“It surprised me. Get pucks on net, you never know what will happen.”
MacLaren, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, has 17 points (seven goals and 10 assists) in the 17 games he’s played for the Ice Dogs since coming to Fairbanks in February after a trade with division rival Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
The Ice Dogs also were helped Thursday by denying the fifth-place Brown Bears (22-30-3-3 for 50 points) on four power plays Thursday.
“I thought we were pretty good in transition, they (Kenai River) didn’t do much off the rush,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “I thought our guys did a pretty good job of getting sticks and bodies in lanes.”
The Ice Dogs missed on three power plays.
Stampohar, aided by Mobley and MacLaren, stretched the Ice Dogs’ lead to 2-0 at 58 seconds into the second period.
Lukas Sicevs made it 2-1 at 3:28 of the second period after the Brown Bears forward stole the puck in the neutral zone and surprising Sholl with a wrist shot that rang the crossbar and slipped behind the Ice Dogs netminder. Sicevs was assisted by Ryan Reid and Vincent Weis.
The Ice Dogs, after creating 13 scoring opportunities for the majority of the first period, capitalized on their tenacity with an odd-man rush with 34.4 seconds left in the opening stanza.
Koethe generated a 2-on-1 with Luke Mobley, who crossed the to Koethe in the mid slot for a low, hard shot under Enright’s pads. McLaren also assisted.
The series resumes at 7:30 p.m. today and the teams wrap up the regular season with Saturday’s contest at the same time.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.