Luke Ciolli (21) skates to center ice to meet defender Andrew Garby (2) and general manager Rob Proffitt (right) for the ceremonial puck drop before the Ice Dogs’ game against the Kenai River Brown Bears Saturday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Hart Pisani/News-Miner.

Early on Friday night, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs were down and appeared to be already out. Perhaps it was the presence of their would-be captain on the bench, but the Dogs turned things around in improbable fashion and appeared destined to pull off an epic comeback.

In the end, unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be.

After falling behind four goals midway through the opening period, Fairbanks fought back to tie the game, force overtime, and eventually force a shootout against Kenai River. The Brown Bears were able to make one goal in the shootout and the Ice Dogs couldn’t answer, resulting in a 6-5 shootout loss for Fairbanks.

Before the game, it appeared Fairbanks would have some added motivation. Luke Ciolli was in attendance for his first Ice Dogs game of the season and participated in the ceremonial opening puck drop to a standing ovation by the crowd at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Ciolli would’ve been named team captain this year before being diagnosed with brain cancer back in October.

Early on, however, the Dogs came out sluggish. Kenai River jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the end of the first period with three goals coming in the opening ten minutes. It didn’t look good for the Dogs at that point.

In the second period, it looked like the two teams traded spots. Laker Aldridge scored on an assist from Mason Plante and Brendan Miles on the power play early to get the Dogs on the board. Nine minutes later, it was Jake Hale picking up the goal on an assist from Andrew Garby and Jack Ring to cut the deficit in half, 4-2.

With just over two minutes remaining in the second period, Cam Ricotta’s goal on an assist from Garby and Zachary Murray got the crowd fired up as Fairbanks trailed by just one.

Fifty seconds into the third, however, Kenai River picked up another goal to make it a 5-3 game. 37 seconds later, the Dogs refused to get demoralized as Ring scored a goal on an assist from Garby and Owen Neuharth to pull the game back within one.

The Dogs remained down one goal for much of the period until the 16:34 mark. That was when Nathan Butler, on an assist from Murray and Ricotta, scored the game tying goal to make it 5-5. After falling behind 4-0 in the opening periods, Fairbanks was heading to overtime.

In the extra period, neither team could get the puck in the goal, forcing the teams into a shootout. Each team got three attempts to score, Kenai River converted one, but Fairbanks couldn’t get any, resulting in the loss.

The shootout loss drops the Dogs to 22-19-2-2 with 48 points on the season. More critically, while Fairbanks earned a point for forcing a shootout, Kenai earned two points and now sit at 46. The two teams will face each other again three times this year as they battle for home ice advantage.

Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at