FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are back on top of the mountain.
With a scintillating 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Magicians on Saturday night in front of a full house at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Ice Dogs took over sole possession of first place and clinched a playoff berth in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.
With goals from Brenden MacLaren, Tyler Deweese and Parker Brown and a 21-save shutout by goaltender Mattias Sholl, the Ice Dogs completed a two-game sweep of the Magicians to move atop the division standings with a 30-15-3-3 record.
“We knew right from the beginning of the season this was going to be more of a marathon than a sprint,” DeWeese said. “From now on, every game is like a playoff game and we just have to keep the momentum going.”
With the Ice Dogs leading 1-0 after two periods, Deweese said it was a stirring rendition of “God Bless the USA” by Mike Finke that set the stage for the Ice Dogs to put the finishing touches on the Military Appreciation Weekend sweep.
“I think we all felt the energy from that intermission performance,” Deweese said.
Deweese brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Ice Dogs a 2-0 lead at the 8:22 mark of the third period when he scored his fourth goal of the season off assists from Ty Proffitt and Lucas Erickson.
“We had a great shift going out there,” Deweese said. “We forechecked the puck really well and Ty made a great pass. I was in kind of a soft area and managed to bury the puck.”
Before the fans could settle back into their seats, the Ice Dogs put a dagger in the Magicians’ hearts when Parker Brown slammed home a rebound after Minnesota goalie Ethan Haider stopped a wraparound attempt by Jonathan Sorenson just 32 seconds after Deweese lit the lamp.
Unlike Friday night’s 2-1 Fairbanks victory when nine minor penalties were whistled, Saturday night’s game started out with a bang as the Ice Dogs Grant Ledford and Minnesota’s Ben Schultheis went toe-to-toe at the 6:42 mark of the opening stanza.
“Ledford kind of set the tone for us by winning that fight,” said MacLaren, whose 13th goal of the set turned out to be the game-winner at 13:09 of the first period. “We knew it was going to be a tight hockey game and we would have to give it our all to get the win.”
The Ice Dogs had a strong forechecking game going all night long and it paid off in the first goal.
“(Matt) Koethe and Luke Mobley had a great forecheck and Mobley made a great pass so I could backhand it in,” MacLaren said.
“This was a huge win for us,” MacLaren added. “Now we have to keep it going through the playoffs.”
The Ice Dogs dominated the final two periods outshooting the Magicians 34-13 in the final 40 minutes, but Sholl had to make some big stops to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard, including stopping Ryan Antonakis on a breakaway with two minutes left in the second period and the Ice Dogs leading 1-0.
With the win, Sholl improved to 11-1-3-1 on the season.
The Ice Dogs return to action Thursday night at the Big Dipper when they host the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets in the opener of a three-game St. Partick’s Day weekend series.
Janesville dropped to fourth place in the Midwest Division after suffering a 4-1 loss to the Kenai River Brown Bears on Saturday night in Soldotna.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.