By: Danny Martin, Fairbanks News-Miner
FAIRBANKS — After the first minute in the Big Dipper Ice Arena, Friday night’s home opener didn’t go right for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The Ice Dogs fell 5-1 to the Johnstown Tomahawks after scoring the first goal on a night that several banners recognizing achievements from 2015-16 North American Hockey League season were unveiled during a pregame ceremony.
The most notable of the group of banners was one for winning the Robertson Cup national championship. That banner had company in the Robertson Cup banners from 2011 and 2014.
The pregame ceremony included Steve Thompson, a state representative from Fairbanks, reading a proclamation from the Alaska State Legislature that honored the Ice Dogs.
The Ice Dogs’ latest Robertson Cup was on a table on the ice at the top of the slot before the first faceoff of this season in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The electricity of the pregame ceremony didn’t follow the Ice Dogs into their contest against the Tomahawks, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and the NAHL’s East Division.
“Nothing went right. We were outmatched the whole game,’’ Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “It was maybe the worst game that I’ve been a part of for my Ice Dogs coaching experience.’
“I think for a lot of guys the spotlight was a little too bright. I think that was evident,’’ Stewart, who has coached the Ice Dogs for six seasons, said. “I’m interested to see how we respond (tonight).”
The Ice Dogs, who face the Tomahawks at 7:30 tonight, dropped to 4-2-1-1 for a second-place tie with the Minnesota Magicians in the Midwest Division. The Tomahawks, at 6-1-0-0, moved into a first-place tie with the Aston (Pennsylvania) Rebels in the East standings.
Newcomer defenseman Nolan Schaeffer’s goal at 57 seconds into the opening period was the only shot among the Ice Dogs’ 24 on Friday that got past Tomahawks goaltender Drew Hotte.
“I think we weren’t necessarily prepared,’’ Schaeffer said of the loss. “It was a long ceremony at the beginning, not that that should affect us, but the boys just right from the puck drop and play a full 60 minutes.”
Scoringwise, Schaeffer took advantage of a puck that was dumped into the Tomahawks zone.
“Boyer got the puck below the goal line and just gave me a nice pass up the wall that I could step into and shoot the puck well on the ice,’’ Schaeffer said of fellow newcomer and forward Joshua Boyer’s assist. Veteran forward Ryan Kero provided the other assist.
Dalton Hunter made it 1-1 for Johnstown with a goal off Filips Buncis’ faceoff draw. Donovan also assisted on Hunter’s goal that cleared the glove-side shoulder of Ice Dogs goaltender CJ Boothe at 3:44 of the first.
The Ice Dogs failed to capitalize on six minutes of power play, courtesy of Andy Iehle’s roughing penalty at 10:07 of the first and a double minor for spearing by Zak Galambos at 10:49.
At 15:17 of the opening period, Buncis provided the game-winner on a rush set buy Samuel Solensky and Adam Pilewicz.
“It’s my third year in this league, and it’s always fun to play in Fairbanks,’’ Buncis, a center, said. “So we just fed off the crowd. We knew it was going to be a fun game, so we just did our best.
“It was a big game for Fairbanks being that it was its home opener, so we just played our best and worked our butts off,’’ he added.
The Tomahawks poured on three goals in the second period to seal the win. Nick Bruce scored at 49 seconds into the period with help from Hunter and Andrew Quetall. Joseph Kile found the back of the net from assists by Quetell and Edward Hirka at 2:57, and Cameron Smith scored at 13:56, aided by Hayden Rowan and Solensky’s second helper of the night.
Boothe registered 11 saves among 15 shots before he was replaced in the second period by Jared Dempsey, who had 10 stops among 11 shots.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.