The Fairbanks Ice Dogs, the top team in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division, face a challenging nondivision opponent this weekend in the Attleboro, Massachusetts.
The Ice Dogs and the Northeast Generals, who face off at 3 p.m. AKST today and Saturday in the New England Sports Village, have been impressive in their last four games. Fairbanks is 3-0-1-0, all on the road, and Northeast is 2-1-1-0 during that span.
“We know that they’re a highly-skilled team,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said of the Generals by phone Thursday. “They have a lot of forwards that have the ability to control the game.
“So the thing for us is we make sure the puck is moving in the right direction, that we take a step in the right direction from last week.
“We understand that we’re in a position right now that we want to maintain in our division.”
The Ice Dogs lead the six-team Midwest Division at 24-9-1-2 for 51 points, three points more than the Kenai River Brown Bears.
The Brown Bears, of Soldotna, had resided at the top of the Midwest standings before getting swept last weekend — 5-1 Friday and 8-1 Saturday — against the Amarillo Bulls in Amarillo, Texas.
The Ice Dogs propelled themselves into first place with last weekend’s sweep of the Maine Nordiques. Fairbanks won 5-4 Friday and 7-3 Saturday in the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine.
The Ice Dogs’ latest string of road games started Dec. 20 with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Chippewa Steel in a Midwest Division game in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The next, Fairbanks prevailed 2-1 in overtime against the Minnesota Magicians in a Midwest contest in Richfield, Minnesota.
Trevor said the Ice Dogs’ growth during the road trip hasn’t been about development or systems.
“It’s just been coming back and identifying camaraderie that our team has put forth or set in place,” Stewart said. “We feel that they’ve been pretty tight and opportunistic with the situation that’s in front of them right now, coming off (Christmas) break.
“We hope that’s able to continue, and it feels pretty similar to last year in the situation.”
The Ice Dogs reached the championship game of last year’s Robertson Cup National Tournament. Fairbanks lost 2-1 to the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings on May 14 in the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
Northeast, 13-16-1-1 for 28 points in the East Division, picked up two points in the standings after Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Maryland Black Bears in Odenton, Maryland. The Black Bears won 4-1 the night before at the Piney Orchard Ice Arena.
Before the Maryland series, Northeast edged host Maine 7-6 in overtime Dec. 20, and lost 6-5 in the series finale the next night.
The Ice Dogs-Generals series can be seen in Fairbanks at the LaQuinta Inn and Suites by Wyndham, 4920 Dale Road off Airport Way.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.