Parker Brown has a distinction in his first season with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. He’s the first player from South Carolina in the history of the Tier II junior A hockey program.
“It’s kind of strange. I get picked on for it a little bit but it’s nice,” the right wing from the Charleston suburb of Hanahan, South Carolina, said before Thursday’s practice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. “Growing up there, we only had two rinks in the state when all our Minnesota boys (on the Ice Dogs) have two rinks within 5 miles of each other.
“It’s a little different and it’s definitely an odd path that I had to take but I’m glad I ended up here.”
There’s nothing odd about how Brown helped the Ice Dogs be successful this season. He finished as Fairbanks’ fourth-leading scorer in the regular season with 41 points from 15 goals and 26 assists.
“He’s a player that competes, which is right up our alley, and on top of that, he’s very smart, competitive and unafraid,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, by phone Wednesday, said of Brown, who played last season with the Esmark Stars 18U team, of Pennsylvania and the NAPHL, a development league of the North American Hockey League.
Brown’s efforts in 57 games helped the Ice Dogs repeat as the NAHL’s Midwest Division regular-season champions and gain the division’s top seed for the playoffs, which start today.
“It was really huge for me, it was a big accomplishment within my hockey career,” Brown said. “It’s something that I’m really proud and it’s something that definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into playoffs, to see how we can make the run and hopefully get to the end and win it all.”
The Ice Dogs play host to the fourth-place Janesville Jets, of Janesville, Wisconsin, at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday in the first two games of a
best-of-five Midwest Division semifinal series.
Brown skates on a forward line with a pair of Minnesotans — center Jonny Sorenson and left wing Jax Murray.
“I came in with just the mindset of playing my game and hope for the best, I guess,” Brown said. “It has really paid off, like all the boys have come around.
“Without everyone around me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So a lot of the credit has to go to the boys, not only me.”
The line also comprises three of the Ice Dogs’ top-four scorers in the regular season.
Sorenson, from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, led the team with 17-39-56 totals while skating in all 60 games. Murray, from Minneapolis, ranked third with a 20-23-43 scoring line in 57 contests.
The arrival of the playoffs means a change in focus for the Ice Dogs. Executing the little things can make a big difference in the semifinal round.
“We talked about this a lot over the last week and a half,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by phone Wednesday. “We can’t focus on the big picture of a winning a championship or winning the next banner. It’s just we have to focus on winning the next shift.
“Our players need to have that mindset and just create small, little goals for themselves, and kind of break it into winning the next shift.”
Second-year Ice Dogs defenseman John Stampohar said among the things the team has worked on lately are “getting pucks deep basically, forechecking everything and being aggressive in the d-zone.”
“Just little things like that. Just playing a simple game and getting quick transitions into the o-zone,” he said.
The Ice Dogs (37-16-3-4 for 81 points in the standings) and Jets (29-25-3-3 for 64 points) met 10 times in the regular season. Fairbanks won the regular-season series at 6-2-1-1, but this weekend in the Big Dipper marks the start of a new season.
If the Ice Dogs are down 0-2 or the semifinal series is tied at 1, the third game will be played at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Dipper.
If the Ice Dogs are ahead 2-0, the third game will be played at 4 p.m. April 19 at the Janesville Ice Arena in Janesville, Wisconsin.
If games 4 and 5 are needed, they will be played in Janesville during the weekend of April 19-21. However, the exact dates of the last two games — if necessary — depend on the outcomes today and Saturday in the Big Dipper.
The winner of the Jets-Ice Dogs series advances to the Midwest Division championship series against the winner of the semifinal series between the second-place Minnesota Magicians and third-place Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues.
If the Ice Dogs win the semifinal series, they will host the first two games of the championship series April 26 and 27.
The winners of the NAHL’s four division championship series advance to the Robertson Cup National Tournament on May 10-14 in Blaine, Minnesota. The Ice Dogs won Robertson Cups in 2011, 2014 and 2016.
Six finalists will participate in the last qualifying sessions for the Odom Corporation/Coors Light four-wheeler during both intermissions Saturday night at the Big Dipper.
An article Thursday mistakenly listed the qualifying sessions as a drawing.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.