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Fairbanks Ice Dogs clobber Kenai River Brown Bears

FAIRBANKS — The first-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs will see the fourth-place Kenai River Brown Bears in two weeks in the first round of the North American Hockey League’s West Division playoffs.

On Saturday, Fairbanks wanted to make sure its puck support and forechecking were clicking when it saw Kenai River for the last time in a regular season series. The two elements clicked well enough to help the Ice Dogs to a 5-1 win for a sweep of the weekend matchup in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

The Ice Dogs, with goals from five different players and a pair of assists each from Gabe Levin, Jared Linnell and Matt Millis, knew that the Brown Bears would be aggressive after Fairbanks’ 4-0 win on Friday. The anticipation caused the Ice Dogs to solidify their puck support.

“They’re a team that comes at you on the forecheck,” said Ice Dogs forward John Stampohar, who scored the game’s first goal, “and if you don’t have that puck support, they’re a team that create turnovers inside our d-zone.”

“We’ve got to have our center coming through and our wings coming across,” Stampohar, who was assisted by Millis and Levin on his goal at 11:29 of the first, added. “It’s a big deal and it was one of the reasons why did so well this weekend.”

Another reason was a forecheck which aided the Ice Dogs in a 29-23 edge in shots and a 5-0 lead after two periods.

“They’re fast and tenacious,” said Kenai River head coach Oliver David. “They had two guys on one guy and we knew that was coming. Our ‘D’ stumbled at times and had a hard time getting pucks around that first two-layer part of the forecheck.”

Ice Dogs goaltender Steve Perry turned away 22 shots and backstopped a 5-for-5 penalty kill. He missed his second shutout of the season after Brown Bears forward Brad Duwe sent a wrist shot from the left circle over Perry’s glove side during a 4-on-4 situation at 5:03.

“It was a breakdown in coverage and they (Brown Bears assists from Brett Lubanski and Doug Beck) found the guy right in the slot,” said Ice Dogs forward Zach Vierling. “That happens sometimes but we try to cut down on it.”

Scoring five unanswered goals also happened for the Ice Dogs.

Following Stampohar’s marker, Colton Wolter sent the Ice Dogs into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead after redirecting in Linnell’s pass from the left circle through the pads of Josh Benton (24 saves). Max Birkibine also helped on the goal at 19:17 of the opening period.

Sean O’Rourke, with helpers from Vierling and Jack Callahan, one-timed in a power-play shot from the left circle at 1:07 into the second. Tayler Munson, with the aid of Wally Cossette and Linnell, scored from the left side of the crease during a 4-on-4 situation at 16:19 of the second.

Alexander Jensen capped the surge at 18:59 of the middle period, redirecting in Millis’ blast from the high slot that came from a feed from Levin.

The Ice Dogs, 39-13-3, host the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla at 7 p.m. Thursday and at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Dipper. Kenai River (26-23-6) ends the regular season at home in Soldotna against the Dawson Creek Rage of British Columbia on the same days.

Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.

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