Ice Dogs still seeking first win following sweep at Aberdeen

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 7:55 PM AKST
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The Fairbanks Ice Dogs started the 2018-19 season winless in their first four games. They bounced back from that slow start, placing first in the Midwest Division and was one game away from hoisting the franchise’s fourth Robertson Cup trophy, the top prize within the North American Hockey League.

After starting the 2020-21 season winless through four games, Fairbanks (0-4-0-0) will look to replicate the reaction of that previous team for the remainder of their condensed season.

Facing what may be the best team in the NAHL, the Ice Dogs were swept by the undefeated Aberdeen Wings (8-0-0-0) in South Dakota over the weekend. The ‘Dogs fell 6-3 Friday night before dropping Saturday’s contest 4-1.

“Aberdeen is a very, very good team. By everybody’s perspective I think, they’re the team to beat,” said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart over the phone Monday. “We competed with them, we were close, but that is not good enough obviously to create the results that we want. We have to get better.”

The Wings struck first on Friday, getting the puck past goaltender Austin Ryman within the first five minutes of the game. The Ice Dogs would retaliate with a Laker Aldridge goal before the end of the period, with assists coming from Mason Plante and Daniel Juzych, who tallied his first career NAHL point. Aberdeen seized the momentum back in the second period, when a flurry of three goals found the back of the net, making it a 4-1, was ultimately too much for Fairbanks to overcome. Other Ice Dogs collecting goals on the day included Bret Link (assist from Kaleb Welvaert) and Jasper Lester (Scott McKenzie).

In game two, Aberdeen put up the first three goals of the game, setting the tone for the sweep. Defenseman Brendan Miles scored the lone goal for Fairbanks, his second of the season. Kayden Hargraves got the start in net, stopping 27 of 30 shots sent his way.

The Ice Dogs reported to camp much later than most teams, as they made all of the necessary arrangements to have a season, which included finding their “sister city” in Marshall, Minnesota. Despite the delayed start to camp and practices, Stewart wants to avoid using that as an excuse going forward.

“We are trying to teach them like, we understand that they’re behind, they haven’t played hockey in 8 months, they haven’t played games in 8 months and teams are ahead of us in that regard right now,” said Stewart. "It is going to come to a point here pretty soon where we can’t let that be an excuse because we are going to get games under our belt, we are going to get training under our belt and we need to provide results.”

The Ice Dogs have allowed 24 goals in four games this season, with the lowest amount of goals allowed coming in Saturday’s loss. Fairbanks has placed three different goalies between the pipes this season (Ryman, Hargraves and Ryan Keyes), with the trio combining for a .850 save percentage.

“Our goaltending needs to be better, there is no doubt," added Stewart. “We need to be better in all areas, not just goaltending. It is easy to point a finger at that right now, but the team in front of our goaltending needs to be better.”

Stewart says they have not made a decision on who will be in net for their upcoming series with the Chippewa Steel (1-3-0-0).

November 11 marked National Signing Day for most NCAA sports. Several Ice Dogs have committed to Division I programs, including Mason Plante, who made his commitment to the University of Alaska Fairbanks official by signing his National Letter of Intent.

“That is first and foremost,” said Stewart of the importance of sending players from the Tier-II Junior Hockey level to the collegiate level. “We feel if we are doing a good job of developing our players and they are inking opportunities to move on to the Division I level, then we are probably doing a pretty good job and our team is probably going to be pretty decent.”

Stewart mentioned the difficulty of getting players to the next level this year due to recruiting restrictions set by the NCAA.

“Everybody is trying to sort that out and figure out what that is going to look like this year for the recruiting season.”

The Ice Dogs will take on the Steel in Chippewa, Minnesota Friday and Saturday with games starting at 4:10 AKST.

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