Earlier this year, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the North American Hockey League were new worlds to Oliver Kjaer.
The first-year Ice Dogs right wing from Esbjerg, Denmark, said goodbye to his family, friends and former club team, the Esbjerg Energy, for an opportunity with the Tier II junior A league’s reigning Robertson Cup runners-up and three-time champions (2011, 2014 and 2016).
Kjaer talked to the Energy coach about pursuing new opportunities in junior hockey.
“He knew Stew was here and he talked to him about just how I wanted to go here,” Kjaer said after Wednesday’s practice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Kjaer is tied for the scoring lead for the Ice Dogs, but the transition to a new team and country wasn’t easy for the 19-year-old forward.
“The games have been good for me,” Kjaer said. “I had a hard time constructing (adjusting) to how it was here.
“I just worked hard from the start and got into the program real quick. The boys (teammates) took care of me and the coaches, too.
“Leaving the family back home and getting a new (billet) family to live with and all the other differences there are — but the program and the boys took care of me, and that’s the most important thing.”
Kjaer is tied with veteran forward Jack Johnston for the team’s scoring lead heading into this weekend’s Midwest Division series against the Chippewa Steel. The division-leading Ice Dogs and third-place Steel, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Kjaer, 6-foot-1 and 186 pounds, has contributed eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 19 games for the Ice Dogs, 13-5-01 for 27 points in the standings. Johnston has an 11-10-21 scoring line in the same number of contests.
“He’s a really talented player, and we’re fortunate to have him on our hockey club,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said Wednesday of Kjaer. “There’s some things that he can do that not many people can do.
“He’s still figuring some things out, and we look for him to be able to take over games at times. That’s up to him, and that’s what we’re looking to him for.”
Kjaer has chemistry with veteran linemates Parker Brown (right wing) and Matt Koethe (center).
“It’s just feels good to play with them,” Kjaer said. “You’re confident when you go in there with those guys.”
Koethe is the Ice Dogs’ third-leading scorer with 5-12-17 totals in 19 games, and Brown, who also has played in 19 games, has a 8-5-13 scoring line which ties him for fifth in team scoring with veteran defenseman Dylan Abbott.
Gene’s Chrysler and GCI are the sponsors of Friday’s game against the Steel (10-6-0-0 for 20 points).
Gene’s will be displaying new vehicles in front of the the Big Dipper and on the ice during the first intermission.
GCI will have a table in the lobby for fans to register for an Apple Watch and an iPhone 11.
Registration is only available at the table and the winners’ names will be drawn during the game.
There also will be giveaways during the game.
Game tickets from Friday also can be used for a 20% discount on accessories in the GCI store, 510 Merhar Ave. The discount is available for a limited time.
Saturday’s game is sponsored by Odom Corporation and qualifying will be conducted during intermissions for the drawing later this season for the Coors Light/Odom Corporation four-wheeler.
There also will be giveaways during the intermissions Saturday.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7856. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.