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Fairbanks beats Wichita Falls in annual Outdoor Game

FAIRBANKS – From the makeshift bleachers to the hot tub and the beer garden, Fairbanks Ice Dogs fans flocked to the second annual Outdoor Game – and used a variety of strategies to keep warm in single-digit temperatures.

\”It was 8 below last year. This is balmy compared to that,\” Rachel Israel said as she stood on a blanket – plenty of other fans in the crowd of almost 1,800 were wrapped in them – to help keep her feet from getting chilly. \”I got plenty on. I\’m warm.\”

Don Hansen, a housing parent for Ice Dogs Josh Nelson and Will Aide, had another strategy that required a bit of good fortune. At the indoor game at the Big Dipper Ice Arena on Friday, he threw a golf ball into a small container, thus winning a contest to spend as much time as he wanted Saturday with friends in a hot tub overlooking the outdoor rink.

\”Awesome,\” the face-painted Dog Pound regular said when asked how the water felt. \”It makes the Outdoor Game a lot more bearable.\” Last year Hansen missed the inaugural outdoor game for good reason: He was deployed in Iraq.

Christine Woll and friends from the fisheries department at UAF had a unusual tactic: drink beer from the elevated beer garden. \”It\’s helping (us stay warm),\” the New Englander said.

The Silver Gulch ale wasn\’t faring as well. \”It\’s freezing,\” said Woll, a newcomer to Fairbanks who also watched the New Year\’s Day National Hockey League game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park.

Woll, who said she planned to stay the entire game against the Wichita Falls Wildcats, was among a majority of the spectators who retreated to the Big Dipper during intermissions to warm up. \”Just enough to defrost your toes,\” she said.

A concession stand there was selling hot chocolate \”like crazy\” for $1.

\”We should have charged double for it. We\’d have had a really good night,\” a concession worker said.

Outdoors, the hot chocolate and hot cider sold out midway through the game. Vendors were hawking handwarmers and T-shirts commemorating the game and bearing the slogan: \”Our pond is better than your pond.\”

As for the game on the frozen pond won 3-2 by the Ice Dogs, Lisa Kelly from the \”Ice Road Truckers\” TV show dropped the ceremonial first puck (last year it was then-Gov. Sarah Palin). 

The game was divided into 15-minute quarters, and after a scoreless first, James Saintey and Michael Juola scored early in the second. Not long after that, the game was stopped for a sing-a-long to the Neil Diamond song \”Sweet Caroline.\” Even the Ice Dogs sang and swayed.

Fairbanks seemed to have the game under control after a Josh Nelson third-quarter tally made it 3-0.

\”Blame it on the weather, guys,\” a heckling fan called out to the Wildcats as they marched to the indoor locker room between the third and fourth periods. And the Texans, who wore balaclavas like many Ice Dogs, must have felt a bit out of their element: the high temperature back home on Saturday was 66 degrees.

The players had it better than the fans, though. They were in constant motion on the ice, and hot air was blown into their dugout-style benches.

\”I don\’t think anybody (playing) is cold by any stretch of the imagination,\” Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt said.

Conceiving the game took a bit of imagination, and conducting it took \”unbelievable support\” from sponsors and others, Proffitt said. 

Ten light poles illuminated the ice, though not as brightly as the Dipper\’s lighting. Speakers blared songs like Foreigner\’s \”Cold as Ice\” and the Beach Boys\’ \”Surfin\’ USA.\” As in the Dipper, fans could watch from next to the ice, but they had to be careful not to stick their noses up to the chain-link fence above the boards if a check was coming their way.

Wichita Falls put a scare into the Ice Dogs and the thinned-out crowd by tallying two goals in the fourth quarter before second-half Fairbanks goaltender Joe Phillippi shut the door to secure the North American Hockey League win. 

The victory was an important one in keeping the team\’s hopes of hosting a first-round playoff series alive – not to mention the spirits of the hardy fans – though on this night, the spectacle and novelty overshadowed even the game\’s outcome.

Contact staff writer Matias Saari at 459-7591.