On one hand, both the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and their opponent this weekend, the Kenai River Brown Bears, have already qualified for the postseason. In that sense, this weekend’s series doesn’t mean all that much.
Look even a little bit closer, however, and you’ll see that there’s alot at stake this weekend.
The Dogs enter this weekend’s contest at 23-19-2-2 with 50 points on the season. The number one spot in the Midwest Division has already been locked up by the Janesville Jets (30-11-4-0, 64 points). However, the second place spot in the division, and the home ice advantage in the playoffs that comes with it, is very much up for grabs.
With the Minnesota Magicians 4-2 loss to Chippewa Wednesday night, Fairbanks finds itself in total control of it’s own destiny. The Magicians are third in the Midwest Division at 23-20-3-0 with 49 points. The Brown Bears, meanwhile, are in fourth at 22-22-1-1 with 46 points. By the end of this weekend’s series, anyone of them could be in second place.
The easiest thing for the Dogs to do in order to clinch home ice advantage would be to win out. However, there’s a chance Fairbanks could clinch home ice advantage as early as Friday night. If Minnesota loses to Janesville and the Ice Dogs beat Kenai Friday evening, the Dogs will have claimed 52 points and locked up the second spot. If both teams win, Fairbanks will need to either win their last game or have Minnesota lose their last game. Should both Minnesota drop their last two and the Dogs drop their last two as well, Kenai River would take the second seed.
In other words, this weekend’s series could determine the playoff lives of the Midwest Division and the NAHL. After splitting the series with Kenai River last week, the winner of this weekend’s series would also claim the Alaska Airlines Cup. The Dogs hold a three points to two lead on Kenai River. Since Kenai won the first game in a shootout while Fairbanks won the second game outright, the Dogs hold the advantage.
In any event, the Ice Dogs will outline their plan for playoff tickets on Tuesday and the opening round will be the best-of-five series. All further information on postseason matchups will come when they are determined.
For those interested in watching this weekend’s series, the games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Ice Dogs General Manager Rob Proffitt says there will be watch parties at Oasis and Fenders.
Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at twitter.com/hpisani91.