FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs got the point they needed to clinch the North American Hockey League Midwest Division title on Friday night, but the final outcome was not what they had in mind.
After giving up a goal 12 seconds into the game at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Ice Dogs let leads of 4-1 and 5-3 slip away and eventually suffered a 6-5 shootout loss against the resilient Kenai River Brown Bears.
With the one point gained for a shootout loss, the Ice Dogs, 36-16-3-4, earned their second straight Midwest Division title and they will have home-ice advantage throughout the divisional playoffs, which get under way April 12.
This year’s road to the championship was much different than a year ago when Fairbanks ran away with the division title.
The Ice Dogs opened the season going 2-6-0-1 in their first nine games, but they came on strong in the final two months and are 15-3-0-2 in their last 20 games including Friday night’s shootout loss.
The Ice Dogs host the Brown Bears again at 7:30 tonight at the Big Dipper in the final game of the regular season for both teams. Most of the other teams in the Tier II junior A league end the regular season next weekend.
Kenai River’s Trey LaBarge scored his team’s first and last goals of the game, beating Ice Dogs goalie Nate Reid both times.
His first goal came just 12 seconds after the opening faceoff and his final goal came as the third shootout participant for the Brown Bears.
After LaBarge scored in the shootout, Ice Dogs forward Ty Proffitt’s shot went just wide of the post giving the Brown Bears the victory and spoiling what had otherwise been another raucous night at the Big Dipper.
After LaBarge gave Kenai River a 1-0 lead, the Ice Dogs roared back with four straight goals.
Tyler DeWeese got things started at 1:50 of the first period when he knocked home his own rebound and Trenton Woods put Fairbanks ahead 2-1 at 6:08. Matt Koethe scored the first of his two goals at the 18:59 mark to give Fairbanks a 3-1 lead at the first intermission.
Laker Aldridge gave Fairbanks a 4-1 lead at 2:53 of the second and it looked like the Ice Dogs were on their way to another resounding win.
But Kenai River didn’t quit and turned the tide and scored twice in a little more than two minutes midway through the second to make things interesting.
Alex Kletkotka lit the lamp at 8:40 and Jackson Nauss pulled the Brown Bears within a goal at 11:05.
Koethe’s second goal of the game came on a power play at 16:22 of the second, but that was the last time the Ice Dogs beat Kenai River netminder Gavin Enright in regulation and overtime.
Kenai River’s JJ Boucher scored at 18:22 of the second to cut the Brown Bears deficit to one goal, 5-4, heading into the third period.
The Brown Bears’ Cody Moline scored the game-tying goal at 6:17 of the third period.
The overtime session was end-to-end action with each team having several excellent chances, but neither being able to find the back of the net.
That set the stage for the shootout. Both goalies made saves on the opening shooters and the second shooters scored for both teams.
The Ice Dogs outshot Kenai River 53-28 on the night.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7586.