The Fairbanks Ice Dogs saw their playoff momentum in the North American Hockey League get harshly interrupted by the Johnstown Tomahawks on Friday.
The Ice Dogs lost 7-2 in Game 1 of a best-of-three semifinal series of the NAHL’s Robertson Cup National Tournament at the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
Forward Parker Brown and defenseman Noah Wilson scored and goaltender Mattias Sholl made 18 saves Friday for the Ice Dogs.
Fairbanks, the only returning team among the four squads in this year’s tournament, led 1-0 in the first period and trimmed Johnstown’s lead to 3-2 before the Tomahawks rang up four goals in the third period.
“We started off strong, we were playing well,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by phone. “They got some momentum, obviously, at the end of the first period. It carried over into the second period, and we fought back.
“We didn’t find a way to get the bounces. We didn’t have enough energy to create puck luck. They made a couple of more plays than we did.”
Fairbanks, a three-time Robertson Cup winner (2011, 2014 and 2016) came to Blaine this week with a 6-0-0 postseason record after sweeping three games each in the Midwest Division’s best-of-five semifinal and championship rounds.
Fairbanks fell Friday to a Johnstown squad that built momentum through adversity in the postseason. The Tomahawks, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, won Game 5’s in the East Division’s semifinal and championship playoffs to advance to the Robertson Cup tournament.
The Tomahawks, with two goals from Carson Briere and 28 saves from Carter McPhail, put the Ice Dogs in a must-win situation for the second year in a row in the Robertson Cup tournament. Fairbanks has to win in Game 2, which starts at 1:30 p.m. AKDT today, to force a third and deciding game at noon AKDT Sunday in the Forgerty Ice Arena.
Last year in Blaine, the Ice Dogs opened the Robertson Cup tournament with a 5-2 win over the eventual runner-up Minot (North Dakota) Minotauros. Minot won 2-0 in Game 2 and beat Fairbanks, 5-4, in overtime in Game 3.
The Ice Dogs hope to be playing for the program’s fourth Robertson Cup rather than have an early exit from this year’s tournament.
The winner of the Fairbanks-Johnstown series plays in the Robertson Cup championship game at 4 p.m. AKDT Tuesday against the winner of the semifinal series between the Amarillo (Texas) Bulls and Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings. Amarillo, the South Division playoff champion, won, 4-2, on Friday over Aberdeen, the Central Division playoff champ.
“After the game (against Johnstown on Friday), they were confident,” Stewart said of the Ice Dogs players. “We kind of move into a different situation (today). Our backs are against the wall.
“We’re excited for this challenge, and guys will be ready (today).”
Fairbanks started this year’s Robertson Cup competition on a positive note. Brown scored the tournament’s first goal at 1:27 of the opening period and it also was the Ice Dogs’ ninth power-play goal of the NAHL postseason. Dylan Abbott and Jonny Sorenson assisted on Brown’s second goal in his first postseason of Tier II junior A hockey.
Oliver Benwell made it 1-1 for Johnstown with 1:02 left in the first period.
The Tomahawks’ followed Benwell’s cue and went up 3-1 with goals from Bennett Stockdale at 1:35 and Briere at 9:04 of the second period. Wilson, with his first postseason goal, cut the lead to 3-2 after scoring at the 15-miniute mark with assists Tyler Deweese and Ty Proffitt.
Johnstown squelched Fairbanks’ momentum in the third period, starting with Mitchell Hale’s goal at 3:46. The surge continued with power-play goals from Briere and Roman Kraemer at 5:44 and 13:24, respectively. Colin Price’s empty-net tally at 17:02 of the third assured the Tomahawks a 1-0 lead in the semifinal series.
Kraemer, Chris Trouba and Cameron Hebert each had two assists for Johnstown. The Tomahawks got single helpers from six players — Austin Friesen, Andy Nedeljkovic, Joe Kile, Matthew Doyle, Samuel Solensky and Alex Wilkins.
A watch party for today’s game takes place in the Finish Line Restaurant at the LaQuinta Inn and Suites, 4920 Dale Road, off Airport Way.
• The Ice Dogs were 1 for 4 on the power play Friday and are 9 for 29 (31% efficiency) for the postseason.
• Friday’s loss evened the season series against Johnstown at 1-1. The Ice Dogs beat the Tomahawks, 4-3, on Sept. 21 in the NAHL Showcase in the Schwan Super Rink, also in Blaine.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.