FAIRBANKS—The Fairbanks Ice Dogs ran into a Keystone Ice Miners squad that played tough, low-slot defense.
It helped generate several transitions and a 5-2 victory for the visitors from Connellsville, Pennsylvania, in Friday night’s opener of a nondivisional North American Hockey League series in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Keystone often kept two defenders in front of goaltender Alex Blankenburg. If the Ice Miners got the rebound from an Ice Dogs shot, it allowed Keystone to quickly set up a transition to offense.
“They established good body position and we’re definitely stingy defensively, and it allowed us to not get second-chance opportunities,” said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, “but it’s hard to get second-chance opportunities if we aren’t willing to go into those areas to get them.”
The Ice Dogs, with their first loss following a four-game winning streak, outshot the Ice Miners 30-21 while getting a power-play goal from left wing Lonnie Clary in the second period and a shot from the high slot by defenseman Josef Ingman with time running out in the game.
Goaltender Patrick Munson recorded 16 saves for the Ice Dogs, whose second-place record in the Midwest Division slipped to 32-14-3. Friday’s setback also was the third defeat of Fairbanks’ eight-week, 17-game state stand that started Jan. 9 and consists of games at the Big Dipper or the Soldotna Sports Center, home of the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Stewart said he thought the Ice Dogs came out a bit flat Friday.
“I would say we did,” he said, “especially (Ice Dogs) parents’ weekend, Hockey Week in Fairbanks and a full barn.
“You would expect them to come out with a little more energy and there was less than I expected,” Stewart added.
The 2,242 fans in the Big Dipper saw an energetic Ice Miners team that got 28 saves from Blankenburg and a natural hat trick from center Austin Romzek. Jon Hall and Jacob Coleman each had two points for the Ice Miners, who improved their second-place mark in the North Division to 24-18-5.
“Losing our last three games, we knew we had to come out strong,’’ Romzek said. “They’re (Fairbanks) a good team and we got a good win.”
Keystone, heading into today’s series finale, has a 2-1-0 lead in the season series. The teams met Jan. 2-3 in the Ice Mine in Connellsville, where Keystone won the opener 2-0 and Fairbanks took the second game 3-2.
On Friday, the teams played a scoreless, uptempo and nearly penalty-free first period. The only infraction was a hooking minor by Ice Dogs center Hans Gorowsky with 22 seconds left.
The doors to the penalty boxes got busy in the second period — a combined seven infractions for 14 minutes — while the teams got goals, with the first three on power plays.
Hall, with assists from Ice Miners teammates Taylor Fernandez and Coleman, scored from the left edge of the crease at 10 seconds into the middle period. At 1:12, Clary collected Hans Gorowsky’s rebound in the slot and backhanded in the tying goal while skating across the front of the crease.
Romzek snapped the tie with two goals in a 1-minute, 28-second span. He capitalized on a man-advantage session with help from from Coleman and Blankenburg at 13:03 and he scored on a rush with Michael Maiden’s assist at 14:31 of the second.
“I think we just clicked as a team. Fairbanks is a good team and we just kind of came together …’’ Romzek said of the win.
Romzek gained a natural hat trick, and a 4-1 lead for Keystone, at 1:49 of the third period with a delivery from the right circle, set up by Matt Jones.
Noah Batis, with help from Hall, deposited the puck into an empty net at 16:19, leading several fans to head to the exits.
Ingman drilled a wrist shot for the Ice Dogs from the high slot with 14.3 seconds left in the game. The first-year Ice Dog’s second goal of the season was set up by Jacob Hetz’s 33rd assist and 57th point of the season and Tyler Tomberlin’s fourth helper and sixth point of 2014-15.
Alaska Nanooks sophomore defenseman Justin Woods made the ceremonial puck drop with Ice Dogs left wing Jacob Hetz and Ice Miners defenseman Lucas Little.
Woods is back home from a nine-month treatment in Seattle for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. He recently was declared cancer free.
• Among the fans in the Dipper on Friday were U.S. Sen Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John Rosie, former president of the Alaska Gold Kings, who won five USA Hockey senior men’s amateur national championships (1983, 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1995).
• Another Pennsylvania team, the Johnstown Tomahawks, visit the Dipper on Feb. 27-28.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: