The Fairbanks Ice Dogs, for the second time in two weeks, host a Midwest Division rival whom they swept on that rival’s home ice.
Last week, it was the Minnesota Magicians. At 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, the Janesville Jets visit the Big Dipper Ice Arena for a North American Hockey League series.
The Ice Dogs swept the Jets 5-3 and 6-0, respectively, on Sept. 27 and 28 at the Janesville Ice Arena in Janesville, Wisconsin.
“We feel we’ve got a target on our backs and, hopefully, that’s an indication we’ve done well in the past,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by phone Wednesday.
The Ice Dogs are the reigning Robertson Cup runners-up.
But, Stewart said, “It’s a different team, and we’ve got to understand every next game we play is the most important game of the year. And (tonight) is the most important game of the year right now for us.
“We’re working toward being prepared and we’re working toward being healthy, and everything that goes into having success on the ice.”
Stewart said every player on the team’s 23-player roster is readily available for the Janesville series, but there have been some bumps and bruises.
“Some guys have to play at whatever they’re at, whether that’s 70% (healthy) or 80%,” he said. “We don’t have a large roster. So guys that are available to go, and guys that show well in practice, we’re going to try to put them in situations where they can succeed and hopefully exceed expectations.”
The Ice Dogs hold third place in the Midwest at 6-3-0-1 for 13 points, just a point back of the second-place Kenai River Brown Bears and three points behind the division-leading Chippewa Steel, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
The Jets are in fifth place at 4-6-0-0 for eight points, two points ahead of the 2-6-2-0 Magicians, who beat the Ice Dogs 2-1 in a shootout Oct. 11 at the Dipper. Fairbanks won 4-1 on Saturday.
The 12-round shootout, which also occurred in Fairbanks’ first NAHL home game of the season, was an eye-opener for many of the 13 new Ice Dogs on the team’s 23-player roster.
“It was something we didn’t really expect,” Stewart said, “but in the back of our minds, it’s a different experience for a lot of our new players who haven’t played in our environment before and understanding the atmosphere.
“Hopefully, they got their feet wet a little bit. We were a little bit better on Saturday night, so the guys responded. I think it’s still a shade of what our team can be and hopefully will be.
“A lot of that’s up to the players, understanding the compete level and the expectations we have of our organization going forward.”
Before the Magicians came to Alaska, the Ice Dogs beat them 4-2 on Oct. 4 and 3-1 the next night at the Richfield Ice Arena in Richfield, Minnesota.
After this weekend’s games against Janesville, the Ice Dogs will be on the road for contests against South Division teams.
Fairbanks plays the Amarillo Bulls in the Budweiser Bull Pen at 4:05 p.m. AKDT Oct. 25 and 26 in Amarillo, Texas. The Ice Dogs visit the expansion New Mexico Wolves at the Outpost Ice Arenas in Albuquerque at 4:30 p.m. AKDT Nov. 1 and 4 p.m. AKDT Nov. 2.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.