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Fairbanks Ice Dogs sweep Alaska Avalanche in first round of NAHL playoffs

FAIRBANKS – Goaltender Joe Phillippi smiled when was asked if he was wearing his lucky right pad on Friday night n the Big Dipper Ice Arena. 

The rest of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs smiled, too, because Phillippi and his equipment were part of the reasons that they swept the Alaska Avalanche and are headed to the North American Hockey League\’s West Division Final and the USA Hockey Robertson Cup National Tournament.

Fairbanks emerged with a 4-2 victory in Friday\’s third game of the best-of-five first-round series after the Avalanche of Wasilla grabbed a 2-1 lead in the first period.

With Fairbanks ahead 3-2, Phillippi withstood four power plays in the third period, including 1 minute, 24 seconds of a two-man advantage.

\”I was so glad to have Joe Phillippi in the pipes for us; he was outstanding again tonight as he has been all series,\” Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge said skated around the rink to high-five some of the 2,242 fans.

\”Our penalty killers did a great job; they stayed with the task at hand and focused on getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots,\” Hauge said of his team killing six of seven power plays. Fairbanks was 0-for-5 on the power play.

It\’s a common saying that a team\’s best penalty killer is its goaltender, and Phillippi rose to the occasion Friday. On two of Alaska\’s man-advantage opportunities in the third – including the two-man session – Phillippi kicked back his right pad to stop shots at the right edge of the crease.

\”They were coming across and I had to get my leg out,\” said Phillippi, who had 23 saves, \”and I just stuck it out and luckily I held on to it (puck). They didn\’t get a clean shot off because my guys were coming back to pick up sticks like they were supposed to.\”

The Ice Dogs picked up some extra rest before they head to Wenatchee, Wash., to face the Wild in a best-of-five divisional final, starting with Games 1 and 2 there Friday and Saturday. Game 3 is set for the Big Dipper on April 23, and if Game 4 is needed, it takes place here on April 24. If a fifth game is needed, it will be in Wenatchee on May 1.

Regardless of how they fare against the Wild, the Ice Dogs will be back in Wenatchee for the five-team, round-robin Robertson Cup tournament May 4-9.

\”It\’s my first national tournament ever in my life,\” said Ice Dogs forward Mark Pustin, who provided the game-winning goal. \”To go to a national championship – win or lose in this (division) final – it\’s big and it\’s one of the best feelings in the world.\”

Pustin helped make the berths possible by giving Fairbanks a 3-2 lead during a 2-on-2 at 17:38 of the second period. Pustin took Michael Juola\’s crossing pass and one-timed it in from the right circle.

\”I can\’t give him (Juola) enough credit. He\’s an amazing passer,\” said Pustin, who has two goals and two assists in the postseason.

Defenseman Will Aide overcame a pointless postseason with two points Friday, including a shorthanded goal that tied the score at 2 at 4:22 into the second period. Aide, with assistance from Jon Schreiner, cut across the front of the crease and tucked a backhand between the pads of Alaska goaltender Kale Robertson (32 saves).

\”It\’s my fourth year in the league, and I just thought pretty much to go out and work hard like I always do,\” Aide said of his approach to the first-round finale.

Mark Millis, with helpers from Josh Nelson and Zach Tolkinen, sealed the win with a empty-net deposit with 28 seconds left in the game.

Defenseman Pete Spratte\’s shot from the top of the left circle staked the Ice Dogs to a 1-0 lead at 9:14 of the first period. The Avalanche responded with defenseman Logan Maly\’s shot from the right point at 10:07 and forward Kyle Pichler\’s power-play shot from top of the slot at 18:35.

Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.