FAIRBANKS — So much for a sluggish return to action.
Luke Mobley netted a hat trick, Jack Johnston scored twice and Grant Ledford also lit the lamp as the Fairbanks Ice Dogs cruised to a 6-0 victory over the Chippewa Steel in a North American Hockey League series opener Friday in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
The Ice Dogs, who were playing their first game since Dec. 15, took it to their Midwest Division rival at both ends of the ice. Rookie goaltender Nate Reid made 22 saves for his third shutout of the year, helping Fairbanks improve to 17-10-2-2 on the season.
“Mobley and Johnston were kind of a two-man wrecking crew tonight,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “They would’ve been a good tag-team world wrestling duo. They were just all over it. They were very, very good.”
Although 11 players tallied points, the top line of forwards — Mobley, Johnston and Matt Koethe — was especially dominant. Mobley, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, led the way with three goals and two assists. Johnston added two helpers and Koethe had one of his own.
Stewart said he was thrilled to see Mobley have a big night.
“It’s great,” the coach said. “Us as a club, we need him and he knows it. He has bigger expectations for himself than what he’s done in the first half. I think it’s just a matter of when he pops and figures it out. This was a good step in the right direction for him.”
Johnston and Mobley both beat Chippewa Falls (8-22-1-1) goaltender Josh Langford (33 saves) in the opening period to help Fairbanks take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. Ledford padded the lead in the second with his seventh goal of the season before Mobley scored two more and Johnston lit the lamp again in the third.
Laker Aldridge, Jake Borgida, Luke Ciolli, Trenton Woods, John Stampohar and Ty Proffitt each recorded an assist in the lopsided win.
Reid, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, kept the Steel at bay all night.
“He was good,” Stewart said of the goaltender. “They had some chances and he had some help with a couple blocked shots and stuff like that, but he was good. He was composed. If he’s playing like that, he’s going to give us chances to win games.”
Fairbanks and Chippewa Falls will close out the series at 4:10 p.m. AKST today. The Finish Line Restaurant, 4920 Dale Road, will be hosting a watch party.
Luke Ciolli is heading to Army West Point.
The 6-foot, 180-pound forward from Colorado Springs, Colorado, committed to play collegiate hockey at Army.
He’ll join Fairbanks defenseman Noah Wilson, who already committed to the Black Knights.
“I’m excited. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t really see that as an opportunity he was willing to pursue,” Stewart said of Ciolli. “But he’s done some soul searching and obviously visited the campus, and he’s super pumped up.”
Stewart said that Ciolli will return to the Ice Dogs next year before heading to Army, which competes in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
Ciolli has eight goals and nine assists in 31 games.
“Everybody is excited for him,” Stewart said. “All the guys in the locker room really like him.”
Stewart and the Ice Dogs reached a tender agreement with Evan Junker, a defenseman from the North Iowa Bulls in the NA3HL.
Junker is from Elk River, Minnesota, which happens to be
“He’s going to be practicing with us next week while we’re in Chippewa, and we’ll see where it goes,” Stewart said.
Junker has 20 points for the Bulls this season.
His tender agreement means he’ll start the 2019-20 season in Fairbanks and won’t be eligible for the 2019 NAHL draft.
The NA3HL is a developmental league that acts as a feeder system of sorts for NAHL teams.
Josh Benson, a goaltender now playing at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, played for the Ice Dogs last season after coming to Fairbanks from North Iowa.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.