It’s early in the North American Hockey League season. However, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs are unbeaten in the Midwest Division.
The Ice Dogs’ streak continued Friday night with a 4-1 win over the Janesville Jets in the opener of a two-game series at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Ten players had goals or assists Friday for the the Ice Dogs, who have only faced Janesville and the Minnesota Magicians among their five division rivals.
However, the 6-0-0-1 record against Janesville on the road and at the Big Dipper is motivational for Fairbanks, which has 13 newcomers among 23 players.
“I think it says a lot,” ice Dogs goaltender Matias Sholl, who stopped 17 of 18 shots Friday, said of the divisional streak. “If you look at our Showcase record, we didn’t start very well in terms of our record.
“It didn’t really show how we played in those games, and I think at this point, it’s just clicking in the plays and we’re actually getting the results we want.”
The Ice Dogs went 1-3-0-0 in the regular season-opening NAHL Showcase from Sept. 18-22 at Schwan’s Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Ice Dogs swept the Jets by 5-3 and 6-0 scores Sept. 27-28 at the Janesville Ice Arena in Janesville, Wisconsin. Fairbanks followed that with a sweep of the Magicians — 4-2 and 3-1 — on Oct. 4 and 5 in the Richfield Ice Arena in Richfield, Minnesota.
The Ice Dogs lost 2-1 in a shootout against the Magicians on Oct. 11 at the Dipper but gained a point in the Midwest standings. Fairbanks rebounded the next night with a 4-1 win to cap the series.
“We have just been kind of building game by game, shift by shift,” Ice Dogs right wing Tyler Deweese, a former West Valley High School skater, said of the streak.
“Early on, we knew it was there, but we just kind of had to clean things up and have a little more detail. Now going into division play, we know points are big, even early in the season.”
Friday’s win improved the Ice Dogs to 7-3-0-1 overall for 15 points for second place in the Midwest standings. Fairbanks is just a point behind the first-place Chippewa Steel (8-2-0-0), of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Luke Ciolli delivered the series’ first goal at 16:11 of the first period Friday, capping a rush with a wrist shot which deflected in off the blade of Jets goaltender Grant Riley’s stick. Matt Koethe and Trenton Woods assisted Ciolli’s third goal of the season.
The Ice Dogs stretched their lead to 3-0 in a span of nearly three minutes in the second period.
Rookie forward Barak Braslavski, with help from newcomer Bret Link and veteran Lucas Erickson, scored his first goal at the Tier II junior A level with a shot from near the right side of the crease at 2:36.
Deweese produced the hosts’ third goal unassisted after stealing the puck near the blue line, outracing two Jets and flipping a shot over Riley’s glove hand at 5:26.
The Jets denied Sholl his first shutout of the season at 13:19 of the second. Isaac Novak fired the puck from the left wall, and Sholl attempted to deflect it but the puck bounced in off his skate. Novak’s fourth goal of the season was assisted by Casey Roepke and Jake Dunlap.
“I was looking in the corner and I saw two Janesville guys in front,” Sholl said. “I cheated off my post two much and he (Novak) saw it and hit (shot) it off my pad and went in the net.
“It was just one of those fluky goals.”
Jasper Lester added insurance for the Ice Dogs at 15:17 of the third while he was slipping on the ice.
Before the rookie defenseman went down, he uncorked a shot from the top of the slot and the puck cleared traffic and beat Riley high on the stick side.
Riley registered 32 saves for the fifth-place Jets (4-8-0-0 for eight points).
The series concludes at 7:30 p.m. today at the Dipper.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.