Ice Dogs fall to Janesville Jets in home-opener
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - It had been over a calendar year since the Ice Dogs played a game in Fairbanks and the community displayed its excitement by selling out the seven home games within 24 hours and lining up outside of the Big Dipper Ice Arena ahead of Thursday’s 7 p.m. puck drop, despite knowing their ticket was secured.
It is a new chapter for Fairbanks’ Tier II Junior Hockey team. The Ice Dogs haven’t skated in a game in nearly three weeks following the cancelation of their series with the Kenai River Brown Bears, a hiatus they would not see in a normal year. But this year has been anything but normal, featuring a sister-city and a multi-week pause on a season that started with the first 39-games being played outside of Alaska.
Spoiling a storybook night in which the Ice Dogs (20-18-1-1) win their first game back in Fairbanks in 411 days was the Midwest Division-leading Janesville Jets (26-9-2-0).
“First, it was nice to be able to be back here and play in a game,” said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart following the 5-3 loss. “Going into tonight, we were a little fearful as a staff that we would be rusty not having played in three weeks or so, and I thought that was definitely the case tonight. At the end of the day, we are playing the best team in the division, we had a chance to win the hockey game and we made too many mistakes and hopefully we can learn from it and be better tomorrow.”
Though the Big Dipper was at 50% capacity, the 1,100 masked fans did their best to make up for the remaining spectators who could not attend. Following puck drop, the Ice Dogs were granted two power play opportunities, but came up empty. The Jets muffled the crowd when Cade Destefani found the back of the net just 3 minutes and 23 seconds into the game. Through the remainder of the opening period, Fairbanks was outshot 13-6. The Ice Dogs got a lot more looks on net in the second, but were still scoreless for much of the period, while the Jets managed to tack on another goal with 6:20 to go in the frame to make it 2-0.
Bringing life back into the Dip was three-year veteran Laker Aldridge, who has scored more points in an Ice Dogs sweater than any other player on the roster. The Lake Orion, Michigan-native punched in a goal during a scrum in front of the net on the power play opportunity with just over four minutes left in the second.
For the remainder of the game, the Ice Dogs continued to be outshot, where Janesville’s advantage was 36-28 by the end of three periods.
“I thought we did a pretty poor job of not recognizing a guy off the weak side and kind of a lot of puck watching in our defensive zone.” Stewart added.
The flurry of shots, which rookie goaltender Kayden Hargraves saved 30 of, led to a 3-1 Jets lead with less than 15 minutes to go in the contest, but Fairbanks continued to shake off the punches.
Welcome to the Ice Dogs Tristan Sarsland, who in just his second game with the team experienced the feeling of lighting the lamp at the Big Dipper, netting his first career goal with 4:23 left in the game. The 2004-born defenseman joined the organization in March, with his only other appearance coming a win over the Chippewa Steel.
The defining moment of the game came less than two minutes later, when the Ice Dogs had an extra skater on the ice during a power play opportunity. Following a turnover, Janesville’s Max Itagaki found a streaking Carter Hottmann on a 2-on-1 fast break, scoring the shorthanded goal to bring their lead back to two.
In desperation mode, the Ice Dogs pulled Hargraves from in front of the net for an extra attacker - and it paid off - as the team’s leading point getter this season, Bret Link, scored his 19th goal of the season with 48 seconds left. In need of one more goal, Fairbanks continued without a netminder, where the Jets took advantage, scoring the empty netter - and the dagger - with three ticks remaining.
“I thought we got some good power play looks, something we haven’t been great at this year, but we also gave up a shorthanded goal as well,” Stewart mentioned after the game. “I thought Hargraves did a fine job in net and a lot of the younger guys showed quite well and hopefully we can continue along that path.”
The Ice Dogs will get two more cracks at this weekend, facing the Jets at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
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