Welcome Home: Ice Dogs return to Fairbanks for the first time in over a year
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - March 12, 2020, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the rest of the North American Hockey League received word that their season was paused, before it was inevitably cancelled all together. During the subsequent offseason, three NAHL teams suspended operations for 2020-21. For the Ice Dogs not to follow suit, they had to do something, and quickly. The city of Marshall, Minnesota lent its hand to Fairbanks’ Tier II Junior Hockey program, hosting the Ice Dogs for the season until they could make a return to the Golden Heart City. While the return date had to be altered a few times, the Ice Dogs are finally back practicing in Fairbanks occupying the Big Dipper Ice Arena where they belong.
Their return comes at a great time for Ice Dogs fans, as the program has won seven of their last eight games and are currently playing their best hockey of the season. Sitting under .500 for much of the year, unfamiliar territory for the Ice Dogs (20-17-1-1), head coach Trevor Stewart likes where his team is at heading in to the next chapter of their season.
“We just figured some things out over the last month and our record is beginning to show that we can make some noise, hopefully, once we make it to playoffs,” Stewart said Thursday at the team’s second practice since returning to Fairbanks. “The guys are enjoying themselves and now we are back here and it is kind of like a second season for us, looking to get into the third season which is playoffs.”
Returning to Fairbanks after spending the last six months and 39 games in the Lower 48, Marshall, Minnesota is all some of these players know, like rookie Tyler Herzberg, who felt the impact of their sister-city’s hospitality.
“They had a video for us at the end when we beat the Magicians and I think basically everybody was choked up by that video,” Herzberg said, who just stepped foot in Alaska for the first time. “It was something special to those people and it was something special to us for them taking us in for the time being.”
And now, the rooks will get to experience the reason many choose to don the Ice Dog on their jersey; playing at the Big Dipper in front of the Fairbanks hockey community.
“It is going to be something special, I mean, Fairbanks apparently has the best fans around so I am excited to see that.” said Herzberg, who has six goals and 14 assists on the season.
Returners who were eagerly awaiting to return to Fairbanks for another run includes veteran Mason Plante, a Marshall-native who got to perform in front of his hometown one last time.
“It was a dream come true, I never thought I would be back there again,” Plante said of skating in Marshall. “After my last high school game I thought that would be the end of it, but I got to be back there again in front of family and lots of friends so that was awesome.”
For the first time in the organization’s 24 years of existence, the team spent the entire winter skating out-of-town, but winter made sure to stick around long enough for the Ice Dogs to return.
“It is weird to come back from a 39-game road trip and there still to be this much snow on the ground, but we are just going to have to deal with it,” Stewart said with a laugh. “This season has been difficult enough and it is just another thing.”
The Ice Dogs will get a much needed week off as they get settled into Fairbanks before traveling down to the Southcentral to face the Kenai River Brown Bears April 16-17. Then, the ‘Dogs will make their much anticipated Big Dipper debut April 22 against the Janesville Jets to kickstart a three-game series. Ticketing information for the upcoming home games are expected to be released by the organization early next week.
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