FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs found an effective way Saturday night to help prepare for the upcoming North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division playoffs.
It was a 3-0 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in the last game of the regular season for the intrastate and division rivals.
Goaltender Mattias Sholl denied 24 shots for his sixth shutout of 2018-19 and Parker Brown, Matt Koethe and Trenton Woods provided the goals which also helped the first-place Ice Dogs cap the regular season at 37-16-3-4 for 81 points in the Midwest standings.
“It’s huge,” Sholl said of Saturday’s win. “It sets the tone and the pace for us heading into the playoffs. It leaves us with a good taste in our mouths ready to get back after it on Janesville.”
Head coach Trevor Stewart also sat out several top players to help the team also prepare for the playoffs.
“Just confidence and understanding. We were sitting a lot of elite players out tonight,” he said. “Anybody can step in and do what needs to be done, and hopefully it builds a little confidence within our team.”
The Ice Dogs and an announced standing-room crowd of 2,242 in the Big Dipper learned Saturday that the fourth-place Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets will be Fairbanks’ first postseason opponent.
The Ice Dogs will host the Jets in the best-of-three series April 12-14. The fourth and fifth games, if needed, will be played in the Janesville Ice Arena on dates to be announced.
If Fairbanks wins the first-round series, it also will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-five division championship series. The NAHL’s four division champions from the postseason advance to the Robertson Cup National Tournament on May 10-14 in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Ice Dogs, however, showed they were focused on the task at hand against the Brown Bears, particularly after a scoreless first period Saturday. Kenai River goaltender Gavin Enright turned away 15 shots in the first period, including at least four on odd-man rushes, during a 34-save night.
Sholl made 12 stops in the opening 20 minutes of the contest.
Stewart and associate coach Scott Deur didn’t make any adjustments after the 0-0 outcome in the first period.
“Nothing really. We got some guys at the back door,” Stewart said. “On Parker’s first goal, (Noah) Wilson made a nice play and Koethe went in on a breakaway, so it’s obviously a high-percentage opportunity.
“Nothing really changed from the first to the second, just the results.”
The Ice Dogs broke the scoreless deadlock during first 11 minutes of the second period.
Brown, with help from Jonny Sorenson and Wilson, produced the game’s first goal at 1:13 into the middle period.
Sorenson passed to Wilson, who one-timed a shot, which Enright deflected before Brown put the puck in.
“It was a real morale boost for the fellas, just going in early in the second and getting a quick one. A big momentum change for us,” Brown said.
At the 10:48 mark, Koethe skated through the slot, cut into the right circle and sent in hard wrist shot. Luke Ciolli and Jake Borgida provided the assists.
The Ice Dogs had a 25-18 advantage in shots after the middle period.
Enright was pulled for an extra attacker twice during the last few minutes of the third period. During the Kenai River goalie’s second time out of the net, Woods intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and lined it into an empty net with 45 seconds left in the regular season for the teams.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.