The Fairbanks Ice Dogs knew by the time the puck dropped Friday night that they couldn’t lock up home ice advantage with a win that evening, but they needed a win all the same if they wanted it.
Saturday’s game ended after press time, but they did their job Friday night.
Laker Aldridge scored a goal 8:57 into the game and that was all the Dogs needed to take a 1-0 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears, officially win the Alaskan Airlines Cup, and put themselves in position to clinch home ice advantage.
The Dogs are now 24-19-2-2 with 52 points on the season. The win was needed after the Minnesota Magicians beat the Janesville Jets earlier in the night 6-4 to move them into second place with 51 points. If Fairbanks can win Saturday night, they’ll clinch home ice advantage no matter what happens with Minnesota. If they lose, they’ll need the Jets to beat the Magicians in order to do so.
The win by Fairbanks ensures Kenai River can now finish no higher than third in the Midwest Division.
“We battled pretty hard over the last few months to put ourselves in this position,” said head coach Trevor Stewart. “Now it’s down to one game, we know who our opponent’s going to be, and we’re where we want to start the series.”
Kayden Hargraves was exceptional in the net, pitching a shutout and collecting 32 saves. The two teams were even with 32 shots on goal each. Stewart is hoping to see a better effort on offense in Saturday night’s game.
“We didn’t do a very good job of getting second and third chance opportunities,” he said. “We weren’t around the net enough. Kenai did a really good job of packing it in and making it tough to get to that area, but we have to be a little more physical and a bit more willing to go to that area for us to generate more offense.”
The Magicians game will be over by the time the Dogs play at 7:30 p.m.. Should they lose, the Dogs will have home ice advantage. They’ve also already locked up the Alaskan Airlines Cup. Still, Stewart isn’t expecting anything less than the best effort from his squad.
“We’ve got to get fine-tuned for playoffs,” he said. “We’re not going to be scoreboard watching or anything before the game. We fully intend to determine our own fate tomorrow night.”
Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at twitter.com/FDNMSports.