The last time we saw the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in meaningful action, they were on the wrong side of a playoff sweep against the Minnesota Magicians at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The location has changed, as have some of the faces involved and of course it’s a different time. However, Friday night will see the Dogs and Magicians face off again, and this time it will be to kick start the NAHL season.
The Dogs are currently in Minnesota as they’ll open their season against the Magicians at 4 p.m. AKDT. There are a few new names and faces as well as some old ones, but more than anything, the Dogs are just excited to be rolling again. The only action they’ve had against another team came last weekend when they played two exhibition games against the expansion Anchorage Wolverines. The Dogs split that series with a 7-2 victory followed by a 6-3 defeat.
Now, they prepare for the real thing.
“It’s good to be back,” said head coach Trevor Stewart. “Anchorage did a terrific job of hosting us and they’re going to be a welcome addition to our division and the league. It was a great experience for our guys to see the level of what we need to do in order to be successful. Hopefully we learned from that and we’ll be better because of it going into our first regular season games this weekend in Minnesota.”
Last year saw the Ice Dogs field a team with a lot of young and inexperienced players. This year, they return a great deal veterans, including thee players already committed to play college hockey in Brendan Miles (Michigan), Owen Neuharth (Colgate), and Fairbanks native Nick Ostbloom (UAF). Neuharth finished tied for fourth on the team last year with 25 points while one player who finished right behind him with 23 points (Tyler Herzberg) is also back.
Jake Hale (19 points) is back. Tyler Stewart, Jack Ring, and Fairbanks Billy Renfrew (17 points each) are all back. Zach Murray (16 points) and Cam Ricotta (12 points) are both back. Add in the fact that both goalies from last year (Kayden Hargreaves and Fairbanks native Ryan Keyes) are also back, and this year’s team is a lot less green than the 2020-2021 version.
“I think at the very least (the returning players) know what needs to be done,” said Trevor Stewart. “I think they know what needs to be done with their game right away rather than sitting around and expecting things to happen. They have to go and make it happen because they’re the guys this year. Last year they were just the newcomers that were trying to learn and now we’re counting on them to show and teach so that’s up to them.”
There’s also a host of new faces that will be counted on to help the team win. The team selected Joseph Greniuk in the first round of the NAHL Entry Draft this year and Dakota Macintosh in the second round.
Greniuk is a 6’1, 205 pound, 18-year old defenseman from Elk River/Zimmerman HS Elks who tallied 10 points in 17 games in the UMHSEL last season and had 22 points in 25 games his final year of high school.
Macintosh, a 6’1, 174 pound 17-year old from the Winnipeg Bruins U18 AAA, only played four games last year, but accounted for seven points in those four contests. The year before that, however, he put up 47 points in 43 games, including 23 goals.
According to the Dogs’ training camp roster, they’ve also added a little more local flavor this year. Evan Fritze and Alexander Kulmanovsky of Fairbanks were both listed on the roster during training camp. Gavin McDonald (Eagle River), Bradley Beals (Anchorage), and Camden Shasby (Anchorage) would give the Dogs eight Alaskans on the roster.
Either way, they should all help make Fairbanks and competitive team as they seek to make the postseason for the 25th consecutive year.
“From the looks of it they’re all passing the eye test,” said Stewart. “It’s all a matter of how quickly they’re going to be able to adjust and make a positive impact for their hockey club. So far I like what I see, but at the end of the day we haven’t played any sort of hockey that’s result driven. We’ll figure some more things out this weekend.”
A year after the Dogs were viewed as Robertson Cup contenders only to have their season ended by the pandemic, the Dogs had a less than stellar season by their lofty standards. They ultimately finished second in the Midwest Division and made the playoffs, but they were convincingly swept by the Magicians at home in the first round.
Now, the expectations will be higher as they’ll get a full season at home in Fairbanks after playing most of their home games in Marshall, Minnesota. The Midwest Division will be bigger with the addition of the Wolverines, as well as the Minnesota Wilderness and the Springfield Jr. Blues. Those three will join the Dogs, Magicians, the Kenai River Brown Bears, Chippewa Steel, and Janesville Jets this season as they all compete for glory.
This weekend marks the beginning of a long journey. While the team is always committed to winning, right now it’s all just about getting things started.
“We’re definitely just trying to get better,” said Stewart. “Obviously, you play the game to win, but we’re not looking at this (opening series) as a series right now. We’re thinking about this as our first game. We’re thinking about this as our first period on Friday night and our first shift on Friday night. After that, we’ll go from there.”
Friday’s game can be watched on HockeyTV.com. The first home game of the season will be at the Big Dipper Ice Arena on Oct. 1 against the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Contact sports editor Hart Pisani at email@example.com or 459-7530.