The Fairbanks Ice Dogs didn’t wait for the Minnesota Magicians to get settled in at the Big Dipper Ice Arena on Friday night.
The Ice Dogs pounced on their rival in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division with three goals in less than 4 minutes, 15 seconds into the game. The early burst set the stage for a 5-0 victory in the opener of the two-game series.
“We were pretty fortunate to get out to the start that we did, there’s no question about that,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “I thought after that they carried the play for a lot of the game and so we need to do a better job of staying at an even level of competition throughout tomorrow night’s (tonight’s) game because we know it’s going to be a challenge for us for sure.”
Friday’s win also kept Fairbanks within a point of the division-leading Kenai River Brown Bears, whom the sixth-place Magicians swept in two games last week at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The series-opening win was the fourth victory in a row for Fairbanks, which improved the Ice Dogs to 18-8-0-2 for 38 points in the standings.
Ice Dogs goaltender Matias Sholl denied 26 shots for his second shutout of the season and veteran forward Matt Koethe scored twice for the hosts.
Besides his teammates’ defense, sticking to a routine before games at the Big Dipper helped Sholl, who raised his record to 15-7-0-2.
“It’s the same thing every game day when we’re at home,” Sholl said. “I just eat; take a big nap; come to the rink; use a little foam roller to get my legs loose and body right; and just focus in on blocking (shots) and getting my game right.”
Koethe, with an assist from Andrew Garby, ignited the three-goal burst at 8 seconds into the first period.
“We were fortunate to get a good start like that, it doesn’t happen for us usually,” Koethe said. “They couldn’t handle it right away and we just kept chipping at them.”
Jack Johnston’s 12th goal of the season made it 2-0 at 2:59. Mason Plante assisted the veteran wing.
Ice Dogs rookie forward Barak Braslavski capped the offensive blitz with his second of the season, an unassisted marker at 4:13.
The hosts’ surge caused a change in goaltenders for the Magicians, as Wes Mankowski was replaced by Samuel Vyletelka.
At 15:30 of the first, Adam Eisele surprised Vyletelka with a high backhand from the left edge of the crease.The Ice Dogs newcomer’s fourth goal of the season was assisted by Laker Aldridge and Tyler Deweese.
The teams skated to a scoreless second period and at 13:42 into the third period, Koethe scored a short-handed goal for his second marker of the night.
Veteran defenseman Trenton Woods assisted on Koethe’s 11th goal of the season.
Manikowski finished with four saves and Vyletelka had 34 for the Magicians, 6-13-4-2 for 18 points.
The teams wrap up the series with tonight’s game, which starts at 7:30.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.