Ice Dogs develop game plan to return to action, first game Dec. 31
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - In late November, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs put their season on pause just four games in, following the Governor of Minnesota’s four-week Executive Order (EO) that prohibited organized adult and youth activities.
When the Ice Dogs departed from their host city of Marshall, Minnesota four weeks ago, they had outlined a plan to return to the ice. Players went their separate ways in time to spend the holidays with their families, which can be a rare occurrence for competitive hockey players, according to Ice Dogs General Manager Rob Proffitt.
The team will reconnect in Marshall on December 27, before bussing to Wisconsin to practice, where organized activities are permitted. Fairbanks will restart the season on December 31 to ignite a three-game series against the Janesville Jets. Although Minnesota’s EO was extended until January 4, it is expected that in-person practices and competition will resume following the expiration of the order. The Ice Dogs will then return to Marshall to continue the first portion of the season as previously planned. With the turbulent start to the season, perspectives of the game may have shifted within the Ice Dogs locker room.
“Can you imagine the emotional rollercoaster?” said Proffitt while acknowledging what others are going through during the COVID-19 pandemic. “These kids, they don’t know any different and their window in this game is so short. I think you are going to find some really motivated young athletes that are going to, maybe not take things for granted. I think it will make them a better person and a better athlete, so we are going to take a positive approach to everything here and we look forward to getting back on the ice.”
The remainder of the Ice Dogs’ 2020-21 is still being configured and is expected to be released next week. As the Ice Dogs try to maintain financial stability without home games that provide ticket, concession and merchandise revenue, the Tier II Junior Hockey program is getting creative. For jerseys that would typically be auctioned off at intermission of home games, they are holding a blowout sale for game worn, signed and special edition jerseys at discounted prices. In addition, the Ice Dogs are going the route of many professional and collegiate teams by offering fan cutouts that will be placed in the stands of “home” games in Marshall.
“The big deal is the fan support, so I thought ‘why not do the fan cutouts?’” said Proffitt. “At the rink, we actually have a special section where no fans are going to sit except the fans that have cutouts and they will be set up each game. People watching back home can see all the supporters, see themselves, see their kids, whatever they choose to do.”
The Ice Dogs hope to have actual fans when they return to the Big Dipper to make their Fairbanks-debut, which is expected to be in mid-March. After the season was paused, it was approved by the North American Hockey League to extend the regular-season through May with the Robertson Cup hoisted in the summer. Since the season ended abruptly in March, the Ice Dogs have seen unwavering support from the community, which has not gone unnoticed.
“They all want us to come back no question, but every one of them has been supporting us no matter what the situation is. Again, Fairbanks showing its true colors, it is just an unbelievable place,” added Proffitt. “At some point we are going to be so excited to come home to the Big Dipper, whenever that is, but I just want to thank all the people and sponsors. I don’t even think I can put it into words but ‘thank you’ is what I will come up with and Merry Christmas to all.”
As the puck drops on their restart the final day of 2020, things are looking up for Ice Dogs Hockey in 2021.
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