FAIRBANKS — Despite its impressiveness, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs didn’t use last month’s trip to Richfield, Minnesota, as a motivational tool for this weekend’s North American Hockey League series against the Minnesota Magicians.
The top two teams in the Midwest Division, first-place Minnesota and second-place Fairbanks, face off at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday in the Big Dipper Ice Arena. The series also marks Military Appreciation Weekend for the Ice Dogs.
The Ice Dogs shut out the Magicians by 3-0 scores on Feb. 15 and 16 in the Richfield Ice Arena.
Shutouts are hard to achieve at any level of hockey but consecutive shutouts by the same score are as rare as a palm tree in Alaska.
First-year Ice Dogs goaltender Nate Reid backstopped the shutout sweep.
“I know there was a little bit of chirping going on before warmups the first game. So I think that lit a fire for a bunch of the guys on our team,” Reid said after Wednesday’s practice at the Big Dipper.
“And we knew they had guys missing but we still knew we had to come out hard and work hard for first place and the division championship.”
The Ice Dogs didn’t dwell on the shutout aspect of the sweep.
“I think we were really excited that we beat them. I think the shutout was cool but it didn’t really cross anyone’s mind,” Reid said. “I think we were just more excited to get the win anyway we could. After Saturday night (Feb. 16), we were excited about it and we focused on Janesville for the next week.”
Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said the Magicians in the Big Dipper this weekend will be different than the squad that the Ice Dogs shut out in mid-February on the road.
“When we played them down there, they were without some of their key players, which are back playing for them right now,” Stewart said Wednesday at the Big Dipper.
“So they’re lineup overall probably looks a little more appealing than it did when we played them. They’re going to be excited, ready to go.”
He expects the Ice Dogs to be likewise.
“We know what’s at stake,” Stewart said. “We know it’s a big weekend for us, Military Appreciation.
And the standings with how they are, it should be some good hockey.”
Only two points separate the Ice Dogs and the Magicians in the Midwest standings. Fairbanks is 28-15-3-3 for 62 points and Minnesota is 31-16-2-0 for 64 points.
“The focus shifts away from us as a coaching staff and more to the players we have in the locker room,” Stewart said. “They know that, and our leadership has to step up and show the way and lead the way.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.