FAIRBANKS — Earlier this season, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs outscored North American Hockey League Midwest Division rival Kenai River 9-2 when the two teams met at the Big Dipper Ice Arena for a pair of games which began this year’s Ravn Alaska Cup series.
My, how things have changed.
Although Fairbanks manhandled Kenai River in their last two meetings, as well as throughout last year’s Ravn Alaska Cup series, the Brown Bears dished out some payback when they cruised to a 5-2 victory over the Ice Dogs at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Friday night.
With the loss, Fairbanks’ overall record slipped to 7-12-2-1. The Ice Dogs are 0-8-1 in their last nine games.
“I don’t know what the scoring chances were, but there was not a lot of urgency from our guys going to their cage,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said.
“Obviously those are the results that are created when there isn’t a lot of urgency,” he continued. “That’s what happens when you don’t attack their net.”
Kenai River entered Friday with a six-game losing skid of its own, though, the Brown Bears improved to 2-16-2-0 on the year after the win.
Fairbanks currently ranks fifth in the six-team Midwest Division standings, ahead of Kenai River, which occupies sixth place.
Despite the Ice Dogs’ lack of urgency, they did hold a 35-25 advantage in shots on goal. However, the Brown Bears deposited four goals against Fairbanks goaltender Joshua Sarlo (20 saves) and added an empty-netter in the final minute of play.
The Ice Dogs, meanwhile, struggled to find the back of the net against Kenai River goalie Robbie Goor, who made 33 saves in the win.
After Luke Radetic and Anthony Tzveyn each tickled the twine to give the Brown Bears a 2-0 lead in the opening period, Hunter Wendt cut Fairbanks’ deficit in half when he netted a power-play goal 18:12 into the first frame.
Hampus Eriksson and Aaron McPheters assisted on the goal, which was Wendt’s sixth this season.
McPheters then buried a power-play goal of his own 15:55 into the third period, but by that time Kenai River held a commanding 4-1 lead following goals by Jonathan Marzec and Shayne Monahan.
Ethan Stewart scored into an empty net to cap off the Brown Bears’ offensive explosion in the final minute of the third period.
While Stewart and the Ice Dogs are puzzled by the recent struggles after entering this season as the NAHL’s reigning Robertson Cup national champions, the coach believes his players need to start having a little more faith in one another.
“I think a lot of it is about trust,” Stewart said.
“The guys need to trust their teammates and move a lot quicker,” he added. “They’re working hard, but they’re not trusting one another and they’re not anticipating where each other is going to be. Once they start trusting each other, I think the results will be there.”
Fairbanks will look to snap its losing skid when it meets the Brown Bears at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at 7:30 p.m. today. The two rivals will meet again in Soldotna at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @bradjoyal.