The Fairbanks Ice Dogs came up short Tuesday night in their quest for the program’s fourth Robertson Cup national championship.
The Ice Dogs fell 2-1 to the Aberdeen Wings, of South Dakota, in the championship game of the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup National Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota.
Right wing Parker Brown scored the game-tying goal and goaltender Mattias Sholl registered 20 saves in Fairbanks’ last game of the season and of the four-team tournament in the Fogerty Ice Arena.
Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said he was proud of the Ice Dogs squad that overcame an early-season struggle. Fairbanks improved and went on to capture the Midwest Division regular-season and playoff titles and reach the Robertson Cup tournament for the sixth time in the program’s history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys as a coach,” Stewart said by phone.
“This group has grown probably the most of any group that I’ve been a part of in terms of their development and character as people,” said Stewart, who’s in his eighth season as the Ice Dogs head coach.
“It’s just kind of sad to see it end the way it did when you’re one goal away from winning a championship.”
Fairbanks owns Robertson Cups from 2011, 2014 and 2016. Tuesday’s loss marked the Ice Dogs’ second runner-up finish in the NAHL’s marquee tournament.
The Ice Dogs lost to the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats in the 2010 Robertson Cup championship game. Fairbanks also returned to the Robertson Cup tournament in 2012.
In last year’s tournament, the Ice Dogs lost to the eventual runners-up Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros in the deciding game of a best-of-three semifinal series. Fairbanks was seeded fourth in this year’s five-day tournament and was the only returning team from the 2018 event.
Winning 6-3 over the East Division champions Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Sunday in the Fogerty Ice Arena propelled the Ice Dogs into Tuesday’s title game against the Wings. Aberdeen, the Central Division playoff champion and the second-seeded team in the national tournament, reached the Robertson Cup final after winning 3-0 Sunday over the South Division playoff champions Amarillo (Texas) Bulls in Game 3 of their semifinal series in Blaine.
Brown, who was playing this spring in his first postseason of Tier II junior A hockey, denied Wings goalie Matt Vernon of a shutout to go with the one he registered Sunday against Amarillo.
Brown tied the championship game at 1 at 15:11 of the second period with assists from Ice Dogs defenseman Trenton Woods and forward Tanner Edwards.
The goal, which occurred during a scramble in front of the crease, was the third of the postseason for the Hanahan, South Carolina native and Air Force Academy commit.
“Trenton Woods got the puck up top and made a nice little move around the defender,” Stewart said. “He threw toward the net, we got a tip on it and then there’s kind of a scramble at the net. It was a nice little play, something we needed more of.”
Aberdeen, at 19:15 of the second period, went on the power play for the third and final time of the Robertson Cup title contest.
Joe Strada capitalized on the man-advantage session just 31 seconds after the Ice Dogs were assessed a high-sticking minor penalty. Strada’s third goal of the postseason, and eventual Robertson Cup winner, was assisted by Riley Murphy and Dalton Weigel.
The Ice Dogs gained a power play with 1:24 left in the third period after the Wings collected a tripping minor. Time ran out on Fairbanks, which finished 0 for 3 with the extra skater in Robertson Cup championship game.
“We rushed it,” Stewart said of the Ice Dogs missing on the only power play of the third period Tuesday.
“We ended up getting an opportunity off a draw, and then we were trying to get our goalie out.”
Aberdeen won the draw on another faceoff during the power play and the Ice Dogs were able to get Sholl off the ice for an extra attacker.
“We just kind of rushed things a little bit,” Stewart said. “There was a little more time than the guys thought we had.
“It was just a very frustrating way it ended.”
Vernon survived 27 shots by the Ice Dogs and he later received the Robertson Cup Most Valuable Player after the NAHL’s last game of the season.
John Sladic, with assists from Wings teammates Pierson Brandon and Stepan Porkorny, produced the title game’s first goal at 15:52 of the opening period Tuesday.
“It was two very good teams going at it even though we were down 1-0 after the first period ended,” Stewart said. “We had momentum and we felt we were going to get our opportunities.
“Hats off, credit to them (Wings); They played us hard.”
Including its 8-2-0-0 record in the postseason, the Ice Dogs finished at 45-18-3-4 in 2018-19. The Wings were 9-2-1-0 in the postseason and closed 2018-19 at 56-12-3-1.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.