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Ice Dogs fall to Team USA 17U in exhibition

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs lost 4-1 to the US National Team Development Program 17U squad. However, Friday night’s opener of the exhibition series in the Big Dipper Ice Arena was a perfect opportunity for the host team.

Perfect in the sense of working to correct mistakes and enhancing what they done well during their first 24 games of the North American Hockey League regular season.

Friday contest and today’s 7:30 p.m., game against the USNTDP 17U, also known as Team USA 17U, is a break for the Ice Dogs from a tough stretch in the NAHL.

Before facing Team USA, the defending Robertson Cup national champions of the 24-team, Tier II  junior A league were winless in 11 games (0-10-1-0) and sit in fifth place in the six-team Midwest Division at 7-14-2-1.

Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart saw some things he liked in Friday’s exhibition and some areas that Fairbanks needs to improve before it returns to NAHL play next weekend against the New Jersey Titans in Middletown, New Jersey.

“We’re were good at some things and we still struggled at the same things . . . like we can’t score goals,’’ Stewart said after the exhibition against the USNDTP.

Offense was a struggle for the Ice Dogs, who didn’t get a puck past Team USA goaltender Keegan Karki until late in the third period on a two-man power play with Fairbanks goalie Josh Sarlo pulled for an extra attacker.

During the second period, the Ice Dogs missed on brief 4-on-3 and 5-on-3 power plays.

“You can’t really tell guys how to score goals,’’ Stewart said. “You’ve got to go to the net, you have to have a stick on the ice and you have to want to (score).

“It’s disappointing, and obviously, this (Friday’s game) doesn’t mean anything in the (NAHL) standings, but we’re using it as a benchmark moving forward,’’ he continued. “It’s almost like a midseason trial, if you will. We saw a lot of bright spots with some guys and the game was back and forth, and so did they.

“The problem was … the difference is they made those plays and we didn’t,’’ said Stewart.

Stewart also was impressed by a few ways the visitors played.

“I think we gave up six or seven odd-man rushes, and I think they scored on three of them,’’ he said. “If you’re 50 percent on your odd-man opportunities, you’re usually pretty skilled, a pretty good team.”

After the USNTDP was ahead 3-0, Kero scored at 16:07 of the third period with a rebound of Samuel Ruffin’s shot amid traffic in front of Karki.

“Sam Ruffin just threw it out in front of the net and luckily, I was there to bang it home,’’ said Kero, who also was assisted by Hampus Eriksson.

Kero, a second-year Ice Dogs veteran forward, enjoyed the experience of playing against a national team.

“They’re a really good team and it’s an honor to get to play them,” Kero said, “and it was a good chance to be able to skate with some of the best young skaters in the country and show them what we have.”

Jake Goldowski provided the series’ first goal with a shot from the high slot that snuck past Sarlo into the upper right corner of the net at 17:48 of the opening period.

Team USA rattled off two more goals during the first 11 minutes of the third period.

Jack Wise scored on a 2-on-1 with Joel Farabee at the 1:08 mark. Jonathan Gruden, set up by Patrick Giles, scored with a low wrist shot from the right circle at 11:12.

After Kero’s marker for Fairbanks, Farabee planted the puck into an empty-net with help from Ty Emberson at 17:50 of the third.

Karki finished with 22 saves and Sarlo registered 23.

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