Goalie CJ Boothe steps up for the Ice Dogs

Danny Martin, dmartin@newsminer.com

FAIRBANKS — CJ Boothe was a rookie goaltender last season for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, and he was mostly in learning status with the North American Hockey League team.

The 18-year-old from Delray Beach, Florida, played in 18 games in his first season of Tier II Junior A hockey.  During the Ice Dogs’ 42 other regular-season games, he sat on the bench and learned from watching Gavin Nieto, who backstopped Fairbanks to its third Robertson Cup national championship in the past five NAHL seasons.

Nieto, now in his freshman season for Brown University’s NCAA Division I program, was a good example for Boothe.

“My pregame preparation, I learned a ton from him,” Boothe said after Wednesday morning’s practice at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, where the Ice Dogs have their home-opening series against the East Division’s Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks. The games start at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Nieto only spent last season with the Ice Dogs, but it was enough time for Boothe to absorb knowledge from him.

“Especially on the ice, how to stay calm and what to do even if I let in a goal,” Boothe said. “I learned a lot of things from him last year.”

The importance of H20 was a big lesson for the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Boothe.

“A lot of water,” Boothe said. “He (Nieto) used to crush a lot of water before games last year.”

Relaxation was part of Boothe’s curriculum about learning to be a junior hockey goaltender.

“Kind of chill out, watch goalie videos on goalies making saves,” Boothe reflected. “Just kind of chilling out for the whole day. Just don’t let your mind get racing; don’t even worry about the game.

“I don’t even think about the game before a game day,” added Boothe, who last season played in 18 games and finished 13-3-2 with two shutouts, a 2.16 goals against average and .918 saves percentage.

Boothe has added veteran to his vocabulary after he was still a rookie only five months ago. Veteran also means leadership, particularly for a 2016-17 Ice Dogs squad that has Boothe and five other players returning from last season’s Robertson Cup titlists.

“It’s not much different, but it’s pretty cool because you get to help out all the guys who are coming in here that  are new,” Boothe said. “Along the lines, I’m still working the same as I did last year. I’m still doing all the same things I did last year.”

His technique has changed, and it’s helped him rank 10th among NAHL netminders with a 1.55 GAA.

“Just staying calm,’’ “I’ve been working on my footwork a lot, and not biting on fake shots. I’m trying to stay up a little higher since I’m a shorter goalie. You come out (of the crease) a little more, and I just need to stay up in my position.”

Boothe earned the Bauer/NAHL Midwest Division Start of the Week on Sept. 19 for his performance in two of the three season-opening games the Ice Dogs swept from the Topeka RoadRunners on Sept. 15-17 in Topeka, Kansas.

Boothe has played in five games this season, compiling a 3-1-0-1 record with one shutout and a .930 saves percentage for the Ice Dogs, who are tied with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets for first place in the Midwest Division.

Each team has 10 points in the standings, as the Ice Dogs are 4-1-1-1 and the Jets are 5-1-0-0. A win in the NAHL counts as two points in the standings, and an overtime loss or shootout loss each counts for one point.

Another change this season for Boothe this season is the Ice Dogs have two goaltenders with junior experience. Jared Dempsey played last season for the Connecticut Jr. Rangers in the U.S. Premier Hockey League.

“It’s awesome. It pushes me, it pushes him,” Boothe said, “and you get to learn more stuff on top of that. It’s an awesome experience.”

Dempsey, an 18-year-old from Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, ranks eighth in the NAHL with a 1.50 GAA. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound goalie has played in two games and has  a 1-1-0-0 mark with a .940 saves percentage.

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.