The Fairbanks Ice Dogs returned to the Big Dipper Ice Arena on Sunday and opened their 23rd season of junior hockey with their first training camp session in the morning and the first of three intrasquad scrimmages open to the public in the evening.
About 200 spectators came out to watch the reigning Robertson Cup runners-up in the North American Hockey League in their unofficial season debut.
“I’m just super excited,” team general manager Rob Proffitt after the scrimmage. “It’s really fun to watch that maturation process from my seat all year long and hopefully put another great product together for the community because they deserve it.
“Twenty-two straight years of never missing the playoffs, three national championships, but all of that is really secondary to the main purpose of this program, which is to allow the kids to have a chance to get an education playing the game they love in the form of a college scholarship.”
Last year, 11 Ice Dogs earned NCAA commitments, eight coming from Division I programs.
Thirty-two players are participating in the invitation-only training camp but, by Oct. 1, the roster will be cut to the NAHL mandated 23-player limit that all 26 Tier II junior A hockey programs abide by.
The players who are more likely to succeed in the training camp, head coach Trevor Stewart said, are those who are well-conditioned and have “put in the work over the summertime.”
Stewart, going into his ninth year as head coach of the program, was hopeful after Sunday’s scrimmage, which ended with a shootout after two periods of play left the teams tied 3-3.
“Based on what we saw tonight, we should be able to compete, you know, that is being optimistic, but ... we like what we have so far. It’s just a matter of piecing it together and just becoming a little bit better every day,” Stewart said.
“I liked a lot of what we saw with our forwards making some plays, so that is very encouraging. ... And I liked what our goaltenders did at certain points, as well.”
The remaining intrasquad scrimmages are slated for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The scrimmages are free and open to the public.
After training camp, the Ice Dogs and the St. Cloud Blizzard will have an exhibition game Sept. 14 and a scrimmage Sept. 15 in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
The team’s regular season will begin Sept. 18 at the four-day NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.