The Fairbanks Ice Dogs finished their two-game North American Hockey League series against Chippewa Steel with a split after beating the Midwest Division opponent 4-1 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena on Saturday after a 4-2 loss Friday in game one.
The Ice Dogs entered the series at the top of the Midwest Division standings. The Friday loss sent the team to second place behind the Kenai River Brown Bears, but Saturday’s performance left Fairbanks back in first, tied with Kenai with 29 points each.
“I’m glad we rebounded and found a way to win after a kind of lackluster performance last night,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said after the game.
“Overall I’m just happy the guys got back in the win column after two losses at home.”
The Ice Dogs jumped out to a 2-0 lead after outskating the Steel in the first period — Fairbanks got 10 shots off compared to Chippewa’s three.
Bret Link found the net first for the Ice Dogs. Link picked up a pass from Adam Eisele and shot the puck low stick side past Chippewa goaltender and Eagle River product Trent Burnham.
Link has been hot as of late. His three goals this season have all been scored in November. The rookie has also contributed three assists this month.
“He’s just 17 years old so he’s just figuring some things out and he’s continuing to grow as a hockey player and we’re seeing the results of that right now,” Stewart said.
Link credits his recent success to getting more comfortable with his linemates Mason Plante and Adam Eisele.
“I’ve been playing with the same guys recently and just getting a feel for them,” the forward said. “I’ve been able to build off them and we’ve been playing well as a line.”
Matt Koethe found the net next for the Ice Dogs on a wrist shot from the top of the goal crease for 47 seconds remaining in the first period. Parker Brown and Oliver Kjaer were credited with assists on the shot. The goal was Koethe’s sixth of the season and his 18th point of the season.
Chippewa upped its energy in the second period and skated with the Ice Dogs for the 20 minutes. Despite getting 13 shots off, the Steel was unable to convert on multiple solid looks.
“(Goalie Mattias Sholl) was seeing the puck and I thought our defense did a good job of negating those second and third chance opportunities,” Stewart said about the Ice Dogs play in the second period.
Chippewa’s closest shot came with 10:30 remaining in the period when a shot from Steel forward Brendan Ogle fired off the left bar.
Of the Ice Dogs’ 14 second period shots, Burnham saved the first 13. But after the goaltender cleared the puck from behind his net, Ice Dog defenseman Brendan Murphy intercepted Burnham’s pass and ripped a shot back through his five-hole.
The goal was the first Murphy’s career and his fourth point of the season.
The Steel’s lone goal came 1:34 into the third period when Connor Szmul got loose on a breakaway along the left boards and fired a shot that went high glove side past Fairbanks goaltender Mattias Sholl.
Kjaer made the Ice Dogs last goal with 1:12 remaining in the game, 13 seconds after the Steel pulled Burnham from the net.
Special teams was a mixed bag for the Ice Dogs Saturday. Fairbanks shut down lanes and Sholl defended the net well on the penalty kill. But the team went 0-for-4 on the power play.
“We’re just not making those reads quick enough and putting the puck on someones tape where he has a little bit more time and space to make that next play to generate that scoring chance,” Stewart said about the power play.
The team also struggled on the power play in game one. On Friday the Ice Dogs went 0-for-8 on the power play, which included multiple 5-on-3 advantages.
The Ice Dogs next play a three-game series on the road against the Kenai River Brown Bears Thursday-Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The series will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
The Brown Bears are coming off a seven-game win streak, which includes three sweeps. The most recent is a three-game sweep of the Springfield Jr. Blues.
“Obviously they’re doing something right, but we are looking at going down and treating it as a three game series and we want to win the series.”
Thursday’s game begins at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s games begin at 7:30 p.m.
The Ice Dogs next play at home on Thanksgiving in the first of a three-game series against the Janesville Jets.
“It’s a great day to watch football, eat turkey, spend the day with family and friends and then come to the Big Dipper,” Ice Dogs manager Rob Proffitt said.
Proffitt explained the mantra of the weekend is, “giving thanks to our first responders … that are with us whether it’s 40 below or 70 above.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.