Following Friday night’s impressive victory over the Chippewa Steel, it was all smiles and celebrations in the Fairbanks Ice Dog locker room.
Saturday night, that mood shifted over to the visiting locker room.
The Ice Dogs got off to a poor start Saturday and couldn’t fight their way back as they fell to the Steel 5-1 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. The loss dropped the Dogs to 22-19-2-1 with 47 points on the season.
It was night and day from Friday night’s game in which the Dogs trampled Chippewa 6-0. After collecting a shutout win in the net Friday, Kayden Hargraves got the start again Saturday night. He was pulled less than 10 minutes into the game, however, for Ryan Keyes after surrendering three goals. Head coach Trevor Stewart was quick to point out the blame for the loss didn’t rest solely on Hargraves as the defense and offense struggled as well.
“We just got outworked,” Stewart said. “They were better than us tonight. Our players need to realize that our fans know hockey, what it looks like, and what it should look like to give effort and we didn’t give that tonight.”
After falling behind 3-0 at the 9:34 mark the game went scoreless until the 3:14 mark of the second period. That was when Zachary Murray got the Dogs on the board thanks to an assist from Nick Ostbloom and Tristan Sarsland to pull within 3-1. The comeback rally was short-lived, however, as Spencer Oyler’s power play goal at the 4:38 mark returned the Steel’s lead to three goals.
Fairbanks actually outshot Chippewa 27-23, including 10-4 in the third period. Outstanding goalkeeping by Grant Boldt held the Dogs to just one goal, however, and Stewart made the decision to pull Keyes with 5 minutes remaining. 38 seconds later, James Miller scored on the empty net to give the game it’s final score.
“We were down three goals,” Stewart said. “We’re not getting anything, we’re not generating anything so why not (pull the goalie)? What’s the difference between losing by four or trying to creep back into it.”
The good news is that Fairbanks has already clinched a spot in the postseason while Chippewa sits in last place in the Midwest Division. The bad news is the Dogs have yet to clinch home ice advantage and now have just four games left to do it. They’ll close out their regular season home schedule this week with two games against the Kenai River Brown Bears before traveling to Kenai River the following week for a two game series. Stewart said he’s seeking consistency heading the rest of the way.
“We just need to be more consistent with our effort from shift to shift and practice to practice,” he said. “When we’re not working, we’re sloppy. The passes aren’t there, the plays aren’t there and tonight was a good example of that.”
The Kenai River series begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. and concludes Saturday night at 7:30 p.m..
Contact sports reporter Hart Pisani at 459-7530 or follow him at twitter.com/Hpisani91.