Ice Dogs cruise past Brown Bears

By Danny Martin, DMARTIN@NEWSMINER.COM
Nov 25, 201

FAIRBANKS — Thanks to a strong first period Friday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs moved a point closer to first place in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.

The Ice Dogs, aided by five players with multiple points, churned out a 5-0 lead in the first period and went on to a 6-0 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears in the opening game of a five-game, home-and-home matchup for the Midwest Division and Ravn Alaska Cup Series rivals.

“The first period, we got a couple of breaks, guys made some nice plays and we put ourselves into a good position going into the last 40 (minutes of the game),’’ Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by cellphone.

Goaltender Josh Neaton recorded his first shutout of the sesaon after turning away 23 shots, and the Ice Dogs got a goal and an assist each from Jax Murray, Jack Johnston and Robert Blueger. Samuel Ruffin and Nolan Schaeffer

contributed two assists apiece for Fairbanks, which improved to 12-5-2-2 for 28 points in the standings.

The Ice Dogs and the Magicians shared second place in the Midwest with 26 points before this weekend. Each of them picked up two points Friday and moved a point closer to the division-leading Janesville Jets after the Ice Dogs won over the Brown Bears and the Magicians blanked the Jets 3-0 in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Neaton denied eight shots in a scoreless third period at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to secure Fairbanks’ second shutout of the season.

“They did a good job,’’ Stewart said of the players in front of Neaton.

“His shots were limited and it seemed nothing would happen for a while,’’ Stewart continued. “Then he’d get a short or quick little flurry. When that happened, he was ready and that was good.”

Josh Benson earned Fairbanks’ first shutout of the season with a 21-save effort in a 2-0 win over the Central Division’s Bismarck Bobcats on Sept. 29 at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Daniel Haider, with an assist from Ruffin, had given Fairbanks a 6-0 lead at 6:53 of the second period Friday.

Ruffin and Johnston helped Jax Murray produce the first goal of the game at 4:40 of the opening period.

Blueger, with assists from Tyler Deweese and Grant Ledford, scored at 9:49 of the first. Johnston, set up by Murray, made it 3-0 at 13:50.

Tanner Schachle, with his fifth goal in three games, scored during a power play at 18:11, with help from Schaffer. Erkka, with assists from Blueger and Schaeffer, delivered his eight goal of the season at 19:30 of the first period.

The Ice Dogs are seeking their first weekend sweep of the season in Alaska, but they haven’t forgotten their previous visit this season to the Olympic-size ice (200 by 100 feet) of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Fairbanks won  7-1 on Nov. 3 and Kenai River responded with a 2-1 overtime win the next night.

“We get another crack at it (weekend sweep), but only time will tell tommorrow night (tonight) at this time,” said Stewart, “but guys seem pretty focused right now and we’re know that we’re in for a tighter game tomorrow (tonight).”

Gavin Enright and Artur Paviliukov shared the goaltending duties Friday for the sixth-place Brown Bears (8-13-0-1 for 17 points). Enright finished with eight saves and Pavliukov stopped 12 shots.

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