FAIRBANKS — Brenden MacLaren wanted to skate with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs when he was ready to begin his career in Tier II junior A hockey.
His career instead began with the Janesville Jets, a Wisconsin rival of the Ice Dogs in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.
“I ended up signing with Janesville; but I ended up here anyway, so I’m happy,” MacLaren said after Tuesday’s practice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, where the Ice Dogs play host to the Kenai River Brown Bears in a regular season-ending series Thursday through Saturday.
Thursday’s game of the intrastate and division rivalry begins at 7 p.m., and Friday’s and Saturday’s contests are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The 20-year-old right wing landed in Fairbanks in February after a trade with Janesville, for whom MacLaren spent parts of three seasons.
MacLaren skated with the Jets from 2016-17 through 40 games this season. He compiled 28 goals and 27 assists for 55 points in 112 games with Janesville.
When he was a Jet, he enjoyed coming to the Big Dipper for games between Fairbanks and Janesville.
“It’s always a blast to come and play at the Dipper,” MacLaren said. “The fans are amazing and I’m glad I’m on the right side of the fans now.”
Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said the Ice Dogs tried to recruit MacLaren a few years ago when he was playing on a midget (ages 15-18) comp team.
“He had an opportunity at that time with Janesville,” Stewart said. “He’s a player who needs to play physical, and that’s what he’s going to bring to the college level, and I think his game is going to translate well into playoff style hockey.”
MacLaren has adjusted well to the Ice Dogs in a short time. He’s contributed 14 points — six goals and eight assists — in 16 games for the playoff-bound Midwest leaders (35-16-3-3 for 76 points in the standings).
“It’s huge to create some more depth at the top end of our forward lineup,” Stewart said, “and create some confidence for some other players as well.”
MacLaren said linemates Matt Koethe and Luke Mobley have helped him adjust to being an Ice Dog.
“Koethe and Mobley have been outstanding for the last three weeks, (the last) month and we’re meshing good together,” MacLaren said. “We’re having fun.”
MacLaren, 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, has committed to Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. Coincidentally, Big Rapids is the hometown of Ice Dogs associate coach Scott Deur.
MacLaren is from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which is the hometown of the Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt.
“I’ve known Proffitt for quite a while now,” MacLaren said.
The coincidentals seem to be plenty for MacLaren because Ferris State is a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a 10-team NCAA Division I conference which includes Lake Superior State University, of Sault Ste. Marie, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Old Dogs in the NCAA D-I tourney
Six people with connections to the Ice Dogs are involved with teams in the NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament, which starts this weekend.
There are two former Ice Dogs players and an assistant coach who are part of the Denver-Ohio State game in the West Regional at noon AKDT Friday in Fargo, North Dakota.
Denver assistant coach Dallas Ferguson was an Ice Dogs assistant coach from 2002-04. The former UAF Nanooks defenseman and team captain was the Nanooks head coach from 2008-17.
Kyle Mayhew, an Ice Dogs defenseman from 2016-18, is a Denver freshman and Ohio State sophomore defenseman Wyatt Ege played on the blueline for the Ice Dogs in 2013-14.
The same regional includes St. Cloud State against American International at 3:30 p.m. AKDT Friday. St. Cloud State senior forward Patrick Newell played for the Ice Dogs in 2012-13, and he’s also a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, college hockey’s highest individual honor.
Arizona State junior defenseman Jakob Stridsberg, an Ice Dog from 2014-16, is experiencing his first NCAA tournament, as the Sun Devils take on Quinnipiac at 3:30 p.m. AKDT Saturday in the Midwest Regional in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Josh Hauge, who was the Ice Dogs head coach from 2008-11, is an assistant coach Clarkson, which faces Notre Dame at 2:30 p.m. AKDT Friday in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Hauge’s tenure as the Ice Dogs head coach included winning the NAHL’s Robertson Cup championship in 2011.
Minnesota State sophomore forward Reggie Lutz skated with the Ice Dogs from 2014-16, helping them raise the Robertson Cup in his last season with the team. Minnesota State plays Providence at 9 a.m. Saturday in the East Regional in Providence, Rhode Island.
The regional champions advance to the NCAA Frozen Four on April 11 and 13 in Buffalo, New York.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersport.