The Fairbanks Ice Dogs won’t be rusty when they face the Maine Nordiques in a nondivisional North American Hockey League series at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
When the teams met for the first time Jan. 3 and 4 in Lewiston, Maine, Fairbanks was coming off an 11-day break for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The Ice Dogs also had only practiced the day before the inaugural game between the teams in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. The expansion Nordiques were coming off respective losses of 4-2 and 7-3 to East Division rival Johnstown Tomahawks on Dec. 30 and 31 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The Ice Dogs managed to pull out a 5-4 victory over the Nordiques in the series opener and soared to a 7-3 win the next night in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“We started off rough, we were down a couple of goals,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, after Wednesday’s practice at the Big Dipper, reached about the first game against the Nordiques.
The Ice Dogs trailed 4-2 in the second period in their first game in the state of Maine.
“We got better as that game went along and found a way to win in the third period,” said Stewart, “and that was pretty encouraging after coming back from break.”
One thing that’s encouraged lately is holding first place in the Midwest Division with a 28-9-1-2 record for 59 points in the standings.
Fairbanks also is on a 10-game unbeaten streak with a 9-0-1-0 mark.
“Different guys are stepping up at different times, which we’re going to need,” Stewart said. “Especially down the stretch here, we run into injuries.
“You need to rest certain guys, so different guys need to be thrust into situations they’re not use to. So that’s our encouraging that our depth is coming along and hopefully that continues to come along for us to be successful.”
Maine is fifth in the East Division at 17-22-2-0 for 36 points, just three points behind the fourth-place Maryland Black Bears.
The top four teams in the NAHL’s four divisions at the end of the regular season advance to the playoffs in April. The first- and second-place teams in each division get home-ice advantage in the best-of-five first-round series.
The NAHL’s two expansion teams have been tough against the Ice Dogs in first games this season.
Before the Ice Dogs beat the Nordiques on Jan. 3 in Lewiston, Maine, Fairbanks prevailed 2-1 over the New Mexico Ice Wolves on Nov. 1 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Ice Dogs won 8-3 the next night in Albuquerque’s Outpost Ice Arenas.
“You don’t know much about them, so you’ve got to get a grasp of what they’re like and what they’re playing style is,” Ice Dogs defenseman Jasper Lester, after practice Thursday at the Big Dipper, said of play expansion teams for the first time.
“Once you figure that and get a feel for what they’re all about, it’s easier to develop a game plan to defeat them.”
That first-time scenario continued Jan. 17 when the Ice Wolves played the Ice Dogs for the first time in Fairbanks.
The Ice Dogs rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory in the Big Dipper and came back the next night for a series- and season-sweeping 5-0 win on their home ice.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.