Things didn’t look so good for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs early in Thursday night’s game at the Bog Dipper Ice Arena, but by the time the North American Hockey League game ended, the home team had feasted on the Janesville Jets.
The Ice Dogs trailed 2-0 nearly 15 minutes into the game, but responded with a mighty effort by scoring nine straight goals in posting a convincing 9-2 victor in the opener of the three-game Midwest Division series.
Ethan Benz had a hat trick, while Nathan Butler and Mason Plante each scored twice to lead the way for the Ice Dogs, who snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 15-8-0-2 on the season.
Matt Koethe and Brandon Murphy also scored goals for the Ice Dogs, who were swept by the Midwest Division-leading Kenai River Brown Bears last weekend in Soldotna.
After Janesville opened the scoring on goals by Nicholas Nardella and Jordon Halvorson, Ice Dogs coach Trevor Stewart said he had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“I had a bad feeling because it was exactly the same thing that happened to us in each game last weekend at Kenai,” Stewart said.
This time, however, the Ice Dogs responded in splendid fashion.
“I think our leadership group got things going for us and then our first-year guys picked it up and started producing,” Stewart said. “We got some scoring from guys who need to start picking it up.”
Benz is one of the guys Stewart was referring to, as he scored two goals in the final 5:23 of the second period to pull the Ice Dogs even at 2.
His first goal came at the 14:23 mark and was assisted by Butler and Luke Ciolli. His second goal, and fourth of the season, was set up Dylan Abbott and Butler.
“I got a great pass to get behind the defense and used my backhand to beat the goalie,” Benz said of his first goal. “The second one was just a good strong shift and I managed to deflect it in.”
Benz said the Ice Dogs made a “statement” by continuing their surge for the rest of the game.
“It’s the best thing that could have happened to us and I think it speaks volumes about our team,” Benz said. “Janesville is a good hockey team and they had won something like seven of their last eight games.”
The Jets, of Janesville, Wisconsin, had won six of their last eight before coming to Fairbanks.
Stewart was a little more cautious about the resounding win Thursday.
“It’s just one game,” Stewart said. “We has to shift our focus to tomorrow night’s (tonight’s) game.”
The Ice Dogs and Jets face off again at 7:30 tonight at the Dipper and wrap up their three-game series at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
With Thursday’s contest tied 2-2, Plante and Butler each scored twice in the second period as the Ice Dogs took command of the game.
Plante scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 3:40 of the middle stanza off assists from Jasper Lester and Abbott. Butler scored his first two goals of the season before Plante scored a power-play goal at 18:02 to complete the four-goal second period.
The Ice Dogs added three goals in the third period to seal the verdict.
Koethe scored on a short-handed breakaway at 9:48, Benz picked up his third goal of the game at 19:07; and Murphy wrapped things up at 19:34.
“I just crashed the net and the puck was sitting on the goal line so I tapped it in,” Benz said of his third goal of the game.
Ice Dogs goalie Mattias Sholl improved to 12-7-0-2 on the season by stopping 18 shots, including 11 in the first period. Janesville didn’t register a shot on goal in the third period.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7586.