FAIRBANKS — Defense aided the end of a five-game winless streak for Fairbanks Ice Dogs end it helped spoil Kenai River’s momentum Friday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena
The Ice Dogs surged to a 6-1 win after the Brown Bears produced the only goal of the first period of the opener of the North American Hockey League West Division series.
The second-place Ice Dogs (30-14-3) got 15 saves from goaltender Steve Perry and two points apiece from forwards Colton Wolter (goal and an assist) and Max Birkinbine and Duggie Lagrone (two assists each) to help halt a five-game winless streak (0-3-2).
The skid included last weekend’s sweep by the Brown Bears at the Soldotna Sports Centre — a 3-1 loss on Feb. 8 and a 3-2 shootout defeat the next night.
Garret Clemment, Ben Campbell, Curran Klein, Jakob Romo and Tayler Munson also scored Friday for an Ice Dogs squad that was as relentless in getting back on defense as it was in getting up the ice on offense against the third-place Brown Bears (21-20-6).
“It was a really good thing, especially coming off of the five-game skid we had,” Perry said. “One of the main things we wanted to do against Kenai was definitely the transition. Our transition was really good today and we finally got that ‘W.’”
The Ice Dogs, said head coach Trevor Stewart, maintained an efficient gap between the forwards and defensemen during transitions.
“When we’re playing well, it’s really good, and there wasn’t much space between them,” he said.
Last weekend’s outcomes in Soldotna affected the Ice Dogs’ preparation for Friday’s game that drew 2,242 fans.
“It’s definitely not as fun to practice,” said Klein, whose first goal of the season put Fairbanks ahead at 14:03 of the second period Friday. “Everybody is definitely tense and you can feel the tension a lot more.
“It was great, it got us going tonight,” the defenseman added.
Kenai River got going Friday with Chris Nuth’s goal at 9:52 of the first period with assists from Jake Bushey and Matt Seidel.
However, Brown Bears head coach Oliver David didn’t see the same momentum in the second and third periods. He instead saw the Ice Dogs pack on three goals each in the remaining two periods.
“We didn’t capitalize on the chances that we had at various points in the game,” David said. Clemment, with helpers from Lawrence Cornellier and Lagrone, tied the game at 2:06 of the second period. Campbell provided the game-winner with assists from Birkinbine and Hetz at 8:41 and Klein took advantage of Devin Loe’s and Wolter’s help to give the Ice Dogs a two-goal lead.
Romo, off feeds from Brett Gervais and Doug Rose, beat Brown Bears goalie Evan McCarthy high glove side with a shot from the high slot at 12:29 of the third for a 4-1 lead. McCarthy finished the night with 20 saves.
Munson, in his first game for the Ice Dogs, scored at 14:31 of the third from a faceoff circle in the neutral zone after taking passes from Birkinbine and Nick Hinz.
“It’s great. My first goal this season for the Dogs and what a better way to get it than on home ice in the first game. It’s an amazing feeling,” Munson said.
Munson was part of the Ice Dogs’ Robertson Cup champions in 2011. He had played this season with the United States Hockey League’s Tri-City (Neb.) Storm but a hip problem hampered him and he got a release from Tri-City.
Wolter capped the victory at 17:23 of the third, aided by Jayson Angus and Lagrone.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.