FAIRBANKS—The Fairbanks Ice Dogs take on the Wenatchee Wild in Game 2 of the North American Hockey League’s West Division championship series tonight at the Big Dipper Ice Arena at 7:30.
And while Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart has already turned his attention to tonight’s game, his team has momentum after how they performed Friday night in Game 1, beating the Wild 5-2.
“I thought we played hard in the first. We had what? Three or four shots hit the posts?” Stewart explained, “so we got a little down, and that carried into the second period, which wasn’t our best second period of hockey at all.
“I thought we took advantage of our opportunities in the third and got the win,” he continued. “While it was fun to watch from the bench, I’m ready to focus on (tonight)’s game now.”
If the Ice Dogs win tonight, taking a 2-0 series lead — which forward Alec Hajdukovich sees as crucial — the next three games in the best-of-five series will be played in Wenatchee, Wash., hence the importance of tonight’s game in terms of momentum.
“(Tonight) is huge,” Hajdukovich, a Fairbanks native, said after Friday’s win. “We don’t want to play Sunday. We want to win and play three games with momentum on our side in their house.”
If Wenatchee wins tonight, Game 3 will be Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Dipper, with Games 4 and 5 next week in Wenatchee.
If Hajdukovich’s performance Friday was an indication of how important he knows these two home games are, the Ice Dogs should be A-OK.
Hajdukovich had a hand in three of the team’s five goals, including two assists and the game-winning goal.
The Wild put the first points on the board, behind Ben Carey’s and Jerad Tafoya’s goals in the first period. Max Birkinbine, thanks to Hajdukovich’s first assist and Garret Clemment’s first as well, scored with just more than 2 minutes left in the first period to keep the Ice Dogs within reach.
The Wild held a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
With 15.9 seconds left in the second period, the Birkinbine/Hajdukovich duo struck again. Birkinbine put one past Wenatchee goaltender Robert Nichols on passes from Hajdukovich and Anton Racklin, knotting the score at two at the second break.
“That goal to tie in the second really helped us start hot in the third,” Hajdukovich said. “We came out in the third and just stepped on them. We went harder than them. I think we wanted it more.”
Hajdukovich scored the first of the Ice Dogs’ three third period goals at the 14:10 mark, unassisted.
“The whole game, if I couldn’t make a play, I was just trying to get the puck deep, get it to somebody who could make the play,” Hajdukovich explained.
Jeff Earnest, on a pass from Racklin, and Tayler Munson, off Clemment’s second assist, scored the other goals in the third period for the home team, ultimately sealing the Wild’s fate and giving the Ice Dogs the 1-0 series lead.
Nichols finished the night having faced 29 shots from the Ice Dogs, recording 24 saves. Between the pipes for the Ice Dogs, goalie Alex Fons saw 20 shots and came away with 18 saves.
“Alec played very good,” Stewart said. “Our defensemen played well, too. No one played bad tonight, and that’s great to see.”
With no one having an off night, Stewart said tonight’s game plan is to execute in the same fashion his team did Friday.
“It’s going to be much of the same,” he said. “We’ll watch some video and see if we have to make changes to anything. The biggest deal is going to be to come out with energy and maintain that energy for the entire 60 minutes.”
“They’re playing for a seed to the Robertson Cup just like we are,” Hajdukovich said, explaining what he’s anticipating from the Wild in tonight’s game. “They’re going to come out hard, so we need to come out harder and not let them get a sniff. It’s going to be huge.”
Contact staff writer Renee Thony at 459-7583.