The Fairbanks Ice Dogs have flourished lately in the North American Hockey League, while the Springfield Jr. Blues have struggled.
On Friday night, however, the struggling team ended a 17-game unbeaten streak for the team which had flourished.
The Ice Dogs fell 3-1 to the Jr. Blues in the opener of a three-game Midwest Division series at the Nelson Center in Springfield, Illinois. Fairbanks entered the series with a 16-0-1-0 record in its last 17 contests.
Matt Koethe scored the game’s first goal and goaltender Jack Caruso recorded 17 saves for the Ice Dogs, who remained in first place in the Midwest at 35-10-1-2 for 73 points in the standings.
“We had playing some pretty intense hockey for parts of two months,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said by phone Friday.
“You can’t to expect win every game but obviously we’re disappointed, but we ran into a hot goalie, and we certainly had our chances to score but didn’t.”
A 49-save performance by Ryan Wilson helped the Jr. Blues, who are in last place in the six-team division, improve to 15-29-2-2 for 34 points.
“He was on it,” Stewart said of Wilson. “He was up, he was square. He was athletic and he made saves on second and third opportunities we had tonight.
“He was the difference in the game tonight.”
Koethe, with his 18th goal of the season, produced the first score of the weekend at 9:44 of the opening period with assists from Bret Link and Emil Gabrielson.
Link carried the puck into the offensive zone and passed to Gabrielson.
“Gabrielson drove to the net and made a nice pass, and Koethe put it into an empty net,’’ Stewart said.
The Jr. Blues responded with three unanswered goals.
Cole Schneider made it 1-1 at 13:29 of the first with help from Jayden Jensen.
Affter a scoreless second period, Danila Larionovs provided the game-winner at 14:35 of the third off assists from Giovanni Caribelli and Jeremy Gabriele.
Carson Jones, aided by Noah Marino and Michael Spinner, deposited the puck into an empty net at 19:05 of the final period.
The series resumes at 3:05 p.m. AKST today and wraps up with Sunday’s game at 1 p.m . AKST.
The games can be seen in Fairbanks at the Finish Line Restaurant in the LaQuinta Inn and Suites by Wyndham, 4920 Dale Road off Airport Way.