Ice Dogs get back on the ice - and back in the win column - with sweep over Janesville

Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 7:47 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fairbanks Ice Dogs may be undertrained, but the Tier II Junior Hockey program did not underperform in their return to action over the weekend. Fairbanks reported to training camp in their host city of Marshall, Minnesota several weeks after most North American Hockey League teams, before an Executive Order from the Governor prohibited organized sports in the state for six weeks. As restrictions begin to loosen, Fairbanks formed a game plan to return to the ice, which ignited with a three-game series against the Janesville Jets in Wisconsin on Thursday.

“It was great for us just being able to see the guys back in the locker room, excited,” said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart. “We came out with a lot of energy all three games, but you can tell we were tired come second period. To our guys’ credit, they regrouped in all three, three periods over the weekend and found a way to win, so that’s an encouraging sign for us moving forward.”

Game 1

Fairbanks made it abundantly clear that they were eager to carve the ice, as veteran forward Laker Aldridge found the back of the net in fewer than 60 seconds of the Ice Dogs being back in action. His second goal of the season was assisted by Mason Plante and Kaleb Welvaert, who tallied his first NAHL point. This ignited a 4-2 victory for the Ice Dogs, their first of the season after dropping their first four contests prior to the pause in play. Aldridge broke up a 2-2 tie in the middle period, scoring his second goal of the game before rookie Tyler Stewart closed the door with an empty-netter late in the third.

“We had moments where you could tell we were rusty, but guys continued to compete, our goaltending was solid and we found a way to win,” said Stewart. “I think that carried into game two where we played much better.”

Rookie goaltender Kayden Hargraves stopped 38 of 40 shots for his first win as an Ice Dog.

Game 2

Same score, same result for the Ice Dogs, who took game two by a score of 4-2. After a scoreless first period, the Ice Dogs had to play from behind for the first time in the series as Janesville put up two goals in the early portion of the second. The comeback effort was sparked by a pair of rookies, as Austin Becker (assisted by Bret Link) and Jack Ring (Jacob Conrad, Nick Ostbloom) each scored their first NAHL goal before the end of the second period. In the third, Becker lit the lamp for a second time before an insurance goal from Bret Link was enough to claim victory. Hargraves, from Denver, Colorado, impressed once again between the pipes, collecting 30 saves and another win.

“It was great,” said Stewart of Hargraves’ performance. “For him being a rookie, he seemed calm, made some big saves when he had to and didn’t give up a lot of second and third chance opportunities to the opposition. As a coach, you look at the guy in the net and I felt pretty comfortable with him this weekend, so it was pretty cool to see for him.”

Game 3

It is tough to beat a team three consecutive times on the road, especially without a scare. In game three, the Ice Dogs displayed their resiliency to the fullest. Fast forwarding to the end of the second period, where defenseman Brendan Murphy pocketed a goal with literally one second remaining to knot the game at three goals apiece. Without it, the Ice Dogs would be in a much tougher position to complete their come-from-behind victory. With the Jets taking back the lead in the third, Fairbanks reached desperation mode as the game clock was ticking. As the Ice Dogs were firing off shots, Aldridge was in the correct spot for the rebound, punching in the goal to tie the game with 31 seconds left, sending it to overtime. In OT, Link attacked the net, but his shot was blocked by Janesville goaltender Owen Millward. Scott McKenzie’s first goal as an Ice Dog could not have come at a better time, as he poked the puck in during a scramble at the net and the Ice Dogs left Janesville with a three-game sweep. The city of Fairbanks’ fingerprints were all over this one, as Nick Ostbloom and Billy Renfrew each scored a goal, while Fairbanks-native Ryan Keyes earned his first win in net by stopping 33 of 37 shots.

Scoring at least four goals in each of the three games, Fairbanks’ offense was clicking in their return to action. Nine different players found the back of the net over the weekend and the spreading of wealth will be beneficial to the Ice Dogs going forward, according to Stewart.

“We seemed to be pretty opportunistic and the offense was spread around, a lot of different goal scorers over the weekend,” said Stewart. “We don’t have maybe some big superstars, so we’re going to need to score by committee. We demonstrated that we could do that over the weekend and that’s what we’re going to do if we expect to have any success.”

After allowing 14 goals over two games to the Jets back in early November, the defense and goaltending has seen much improvement.

“Defensively, we competed, we were much better,” added Stewart. “We still are giving up a lot of shots, but it is mostly our decision making when we have the puck on our sticks and turning pucks over where we create some bad situations for ourselves. It is just a matter of time before we start decreasing the amount of shots that we give up.”

The Ice Dogs will continue to tune up before they start a two-game series with the Minnesota Magicians on Thursday.

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