FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs had been trying to put together a complete performance all season.
They accomplished the feat Saturday night, when they hosted Midwest Division rival Janesville in a series finale at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Luke Ciolli and Jax Murray scored two goals apiece, Jack Johnston also found the back of the net and goaltender Nate Reid made 18 saves as the Ice Dogs cruised to a 5-0 victory over the Jets.
It was the first home win of the season for Fairbanks, which suffered a 4-2 loss to Janesville in Friday’s home opener.
“A lot of the guys were frustrated with the outcome last night,” said Ciolli, a rookie forward from Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We wanted to bounce back at home for the fans’ and the team’s sake.”
The Ice Dogs (3-6-0-1) took a 2-0 lead into the third period before piling on the Jets (5-5-0-0) in the final frame. After Ciolli scored in the first period and then again in the second, Murray and Johnston both lit the lamp in the final frame.
Throughout the third period, the atmosphere in the Big Dipper felt similar to the way it did during much of the 2017-18 season. Fairbanks was taking it to Janesville, and it never took its foot off the gas as the visitors struggled to create momentum.
“You can’t just sit back when you’re protecting a lead,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “You have to be able to go out and make some plays, and figure out a way to keep teams on their heels. We did exactly that tonight.”
“It felt great,” added Murray, a veteran forward from Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Any time you can blow a team out of the water like that, it feels awesome. We just kept pressuring and pressuring and then we were able to find some goals in the third period.”
Ciolli put home a pass from linemate Grant Ledford to give Fairbanks a 1-0 lead 18:49 into the opening period. The duo connected again in the second, as Ledford, a native of Jackson, Michigan, launched a shot on goal and Ciolli buried the rebound past Janesville goaltender Cole Brady.
The second goal came on a Jets power play and was the Ice Dogs’ second short-handed score of the weekend.
“My teammates helped me out a lot,” Ciolli said. “Grant Ledford set me up nice. It was nice to get those two goals at the Dipper — I’ve never felt anything like it.”
While the Fairbanks skaters were having their way with Brady (12 saves), Reid stood tall to earn his — and the team’s — second shutout victory of the season.
“I definitely wanted to get a win here,” said Reid, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, who was the Ice Dogs’ first pick in the 2018 NAHL draft. “I was thinking before the game, ‘You know, we really need to get some momentum going forward.’ That really motivated me to give that extra 10 percent.”
Reid made 18 saves in all, though the rookie netminder was at his best in the final minute of the second period. The Jets got the puck down low to 6-foot-6 forward Erik Palmqvist, who was left alone with Reid in front of the net.
Palmqvist spun and went low to Reid’s glove side, but the Fairbanks goaltender was there to make a kick save. Janesville piled into the crease and tried to score on a rebound, however, Reid found a way to hold the puck in front of the end-line and keep the shutout intact.
“It felt like everybody collapsed on me and I was on my side when I covered it,” Reid said of the play. “It felt awesome to hear the roar of the crowd after that.”
Murray started the third-period scoring spree 14:07 into the frame, and Johnston lit the lamp for a power-play goal just 31 seconds later. The Ice Dogs kept the pressure on and Murray tickled the twine once more 15:19 into the final period.
As happy as Stewart was to see his team excel, the longtime Ice Dogs coach said he hopes his players will be able to carry momentum from Saturday’s win into next weekend.
“This is just one game,” he said. “We don’t want to just win one game and then lose the next game. We’ll enjoy it tonight, and we’ll be focused up and ready to go next Friday.”
Fairbanks will welcome the Chippewa Steel to the Big Dipper for a two-game series Friday and Saturday. The Steel, who were formerly known as the Coulee Region Chill, earned 3-1 and 3-2 victories over the Ice Dogs in the teams’ first games of the season.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.