After four periods and a 5-minute overtime session, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs offense finally came to life Saturday night.
The Ice Dogs scored three goals in the first 8:05 of the second period and went on to claim a 4-1 victory against the Minnesota Magicians in North American Hockey League action in front of a packed house at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Ethan Benz, an 18-year-old newcomer from Shakopee, Minnesota, scored the only two goals the Ice Dogs needed and the Ice Dogs got a short-handed, empty-net goal in the closing seconds to claim their first win of the year at the Dipper after suffering a 2-1 shootout loss in Friday night’s home-opener against the Magicians.
“It was a good feeling to finally put the puck in the net,” Benz said outside the Ice Dogs locker room after a jubilant team celebration.
Benz broke a scoreless tie at 3:07 of the second period with the first goal of his Ice Dogs career assisted by veteran Tyler Deweese of Fairbanks and newcomer Adam Eisele of Lake Elmo, Minnesota.
“I came off the bench and took two strong strides toward the net,” Benz said. “Tyler gave me a great pass and I just tried to make sure the shot went on net.”
It was better than just on target. The puck made it past Minnesota goalie Samuel Vyletelka to give Fairbanks a 1-0 advantage.
That lead barely lasted three minutes as the Magicians knotted the score at 1-1 when Marko Reifenberger notched his fourth goal of the season beating Fairbanks goalie Mattias Sholl with a shot to the stick side off assists from Jake Seitz and Gordon Whalen at the 6:11 mark.
Sholl was steady in the net the rest of the way, making 21 saves on the night to improve to 3-3-0-1 on the season. The veteran Ice Dogs goalie was exceptionally strong in the third period when the Ice Dogs were forced to kill off four penalties and part of a fifth during the final 20 minutes.
“I thought our penalty kill, led by Sholl, did an excellent job tonight,” Stewart said. “It all starts in the net and our goalie was our best penalty killer tonight.”
The Ice Dogs killed six penalties on the night.
Benz second goal of the night came on a breakaway and proved to be the game-winner at 7:59 of the second period.
“(Brendan) Murphy gave me a great pass and I was able to get in all alone,” Benz said. “I was just happy I could finish it off.”
His blast found the back of the net and that was all the Ice Dogs needed to improve to 6-3-0-1 on the season for 13 points in the NAHL Midwest Division. Fairbanks is three points behind the league-leading Chippewa Steel (8-2-0) in the Midwest Division.
Six Seconds after Benz beat Vyltekelka on the glove side, veteran Ice Dogs forward Matt Koethe found the back of the net on the Magician goalie’s stick side to give the Ice Dogs a 3-1 lead at 8:05 of the second period.
Jack Johnston and Dylan Abbott assisted on Koethe’s goal.
The score remained 3-1 until there were 41 seconds left in the game when veteran defenseman Andrew Garby’s clear on the penalty kill slid into an empty net to give the Ice Dogs the final 4-1 advantage.
Oliver Kjaer and Lucas Erickson were credited with assists.
The Ice Dogs outshot the Magicians 32-21 on the night, including 26-13 in the first two periods.
The Ice Dogs return to the friendly confines of the Big Dipper Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they host the Jainesville Jets in the first of a two-game series.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7586.