FAIRBANKS — It wasn’t until the third period Friday night in the Richfield Arena that the Fairbanks Ice Dogs got on track against the Minnesota Magicians in the opener of their North American Hockey League series in Richfield, Minnesota.
However, Connor Chilton’s short-handed goal late in the third period wasn’t enough of a surge for the Ice Dogs in the battle of top-three teams in the Midwest Division.
The 5-1 loss drops the Ice Dogs from third place in the division to fourth place at 20-23-2-1 for 43 points. Fourth place is the lowest a team can finish in any of the NAHL’s four divisions to advance to the playoffs in April.
The Springfield Jr. Blues, the Ice Dogs’ next opponent, took over third place after Friday’s 6-1 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears in Springfield, Illinois.
Caleb Hite and Timo Walther had two points each on Friday for the Magicians, who stretched their second-place record to 26-16-2-2 for 56 points.
Chilton, with the second goal in his first season as an Ice Dog, converted his short-handed opportunity at 14:50 of the third, aided by Erkka Vanska and Luke Orysiuk.
The Magicians grabbed a 3-0 lead in less than six minutes into the series.
Matthew Denman scored at 1:41 of the first period with help from Hite and Walther. Hite scored his 11th goal of the season at 4:28, with assists from Walther and Cameron Buhl. Will LeNeave, aided by Slattery and Altounian, provided his first goal of the season at 5:46.
Ice Dogs starting goaltender Josh Benson was replaced in the second period by Erik Gordon. Tanner Tweten greeted Gordon with a a goal at 17:25, set up by Brendan Skarda and Parker Mismash.
After Chilton’s short-handed marker, Mitchel Slattery deposited the puck into an empty net at 17:18 of the third. Slattery’s 16th goal of the season assisted by Andrew Kangas and Will Hammer.
Benson finished two saves against five shots, and Gordon stopped 31 of 32 shots. Minnesota counterpart Ivan Prosvetov registered 23 saves.
The series ends with today’s game at 4:05 p.m. AKST. The Ice Dogs visit Springfield on Feb. 24 and 25.
After the road trip, the Ice Dogs are home at the Big Dipper Ice Arena for their last 11 games of the regular season. The homestand begins with a Midwest series against Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill at 7:30 p.m. March 3 and 4.
Contact News-MIner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.