The Fairbanks Ice Dogs showed there’s more than one way to win a hockey game in completing a two-game North American Hockey League sweep of the Kenai River Brown Bears Saturday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Friday night the Ice Dogs used their finesse and offensive firepower to drub the Brown Bears 10-1 in the first game in Fairbanks in more than six weeks.
Saturday, when Kenai played a much more physical style, the Ice Dogs found a way to grind out a 5-3 win and maintain their lead in the NAHL Midwest Division standings.
“They (Kenai River) came out more physical tonight and set the territory right from the start,” Ice Dogs coach Dave Allison said. “We didn’t adjust very well at the start, but once we started to grind it out with them, we found a way to win the hockey game.”
Allison pointed to the line of center and team captain Jack Ring and wingers Jake Hale and Cameron Ricotta as one of the keys to Saturday night’s win.
“Hale, Ring and Ricotta play the game with compassion for each other,” Allison said. “They were a powerful line for us tonight.”
Ricotta scored the Ice Dogs first goal, Ring had an assist on what proved to be the game-winning goal and Hale finished off the Brown Bears with an unassisted goal into an empty net.
Another key factor for the Ice Dogs Saturday night was the play of goaltender Tyler Krivtsov, who earned the win with 31 saves, including several on breakaways as Kenai River continually controlled the puck behind the Ice Dogs defense.
“He came up with some big saves for us,” Allison said.
Ricotta scored the lone goal of the first period while the Ice Dogs were skating shorthanded off an assist from Cam Shasbry.
The lead remained 1-0 until midway through the second period when Kenai River scored twice within a span of 47 seconds.
Ryan Finch tied the score with a power-play goal at the 11:23 mark. Max Marquette found the back of the net from between the faceoff circles to put the Brown Bears ahead 2-1 and 12:10.
That lead only lasted for 50 seconds as Shasby scored his fifth goal of the season off assists from Alexander Malinowski and Brady Welsch at 13:00.
Fairbanks took the lead for good when Billy Renfrew scored his team-high 20th goal of the season at 17:14 of the second with assists going to newcomer Parker Dorn and Sam Berry.
“They just told me to go out and play my game and everything would be all right,” Dorn said. “The atmosphere here is just crazy. There’s nowhere else like this in all of junior hockey.”
Tyler Stewart’s 14th goal of the season, assisted by Dakota MacIntosh and Ring, at 3:25 of the third period proved to be the game-winning goal.
Three minutes later Kaden Hjelm scored for the Brown Bears to make it 4-3, but Kenai River couldn’t get the equalizer past Krivtsov.
Kenai River goalie Cole Wheaton had 31 saves in taking the loss.
The Ice Dogs improved to 25-11-0-1 for 51 points in the Midwest Division. The Springfield Jr. Blues are second with 45 points, but they have played four fewer games than the Ice Dogs. Anchorage is third with 41 points and the Wolverines have played three fewer games than Fairbanks.
The Ice Dogs take on the Wolverines in a two-game series at Ben Boeke Arena in Anchorage on Friday and Saturday.