The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in a familiar place this weekend against a familiar opponent.
The Ice Dogs are playing their first North American Hockey League series of the season at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. However, the 7:30 p.m. contests today and Saturday aren’t their first encounters of 2019-20 against the Minnesota Magicians.
The Midwest Division rivals met Oct. 4 and 5 in the Richfield Ice Arena in Richfield, Minnesota, where the Ice Dogs swept with respective wins of 4-2 and 3-1.
The Ice Dogs, though, have kept the sweep at the Magicians’ arena in perspective.
“We just have to focus on getting better. It’s early in the season and that’s been our focus since day one,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said after Wednesday’s practice in the Big Dipper.
“We need to get a little better each day and guys have done that over the last couple of weeks,” Stewart said while alluding to the sweep of the Magicians and a sweep of the Janesville Jets — 5-3 and 6-0, respectively — on Sept. 29 and 30 at the Janesville Ice Arena in Janesville, Wisconsin.
“The Ice Dogs enter the weekend at 5-3-0-0 for 10 points and a second-place tie with the Kenai River Brown Bears (4-2-1-) in the Midwest Division. The Magicians come to Fairbanks with a 1-5-2-0 for four points and last place in the six-team division.
“The Magicians are a tough opponent and they’re going to be coming in here hungry,” Stewart said. “We have to do a good job of getting the crowd behind us and playing a good brand of hockey.”
The Ice Dogs also defeated the Magicians last spring in Richfield in the Midwest Division Championship Series to advance to the Robertson Cup National Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota. Fairbanks lost to the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings in the Robertson Cup title game.
“We’ve played well against them the last couple of games, including last year (season),” Stewart said. “It’s early in the season and both teams have a bunch of new players on their teams.
“The hockey this weekend will be different than it was last weekend, and last weekend was certainly different than it was playoff time last season.”
It seems the atmosphere of the Big Dipper won’t be different for the Ice Dogs players, whether they’re among the team’s 13 newcomers or 10 veterans.
“Honestly, it’s getting back in front of the fans,” veteran right wing Jack Johnston said of what he was looking forward to this weekend in the Dipper.
“I’ve been playing here for a couple of years now, and they always give us the best support. They love packing it and getting loud. So it’s just kind of that and giving them a show that they’ve been waiting for.”
After the Minnesota series, the Ice Dogs host Janesville at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.