FAIRBANKS—After 14 days away from home, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs were greeted Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena by 2,199 fans very happy to see them. And in front of their rowdy hometown crowd, the Ice Dogs didn’t disappoint, beating the Kenai River Brown Bears, 5-4, for their sixth straight win.
“It’s awesome to be back and not have to leave,” Ice Dogs forward and Lathrop graduate Tayler Munson said following the North American Hockey League game. “We were so excited to be back at the Dipper in front of our fans.”
The excitement showed from the very beginning as Munson, on passes from his new linemates Garret Clemment and Rudy Sulmonte, scored just 1 minute, 14 seconds into the game.
“We came out hard,” Munson said. “We got that goal on the first shift.”
Munson, Clemment and Sulmonte were just put together on the same line last week, but head coach Trevor Stewart’s move was a smart one. The trio struck again at the 15:44 mark in the third period to give the Ice Dogs a 5-3 lead.
Conor Deal scored with 1:25 left to go for the Brown Bears to keep things interesting.
“They found a way to get back,” Munson said about the pesky Brown Bears. “We slowed down and stopped skating a bit.”
“At the end of the day, we found a way to win, and that’s the important thing,” Stewart added.
After Munson’s opening goal, JT Osborn sunk another one, on the power play, three minutes later. Anton Racklin and Sean O’Rourke picked up the assists, as the Ice Dogs held a 2-0 lead.
Jesse Ramsey put one away for Kenai River with 8:45 left in the first period, on passes from Dominic Granato and Ryan Walker.
Both teams hit goals in the second period to keep the margin the same. Alec Hajdukovich got passes from Gabe Levin and Evan Wilson 5 minutes in, and Kenai’s Anthony Stempin scored with just under 2 minutes left in the period. Sean Muller and Walker assisted Stempin’s score.
Sulmonte and Munson assisted Wilson to open the third period before Munson hit his second shot of the game 3 minutes later.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Stewart said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there at some times, but I think it was just being back at home and being a little over anxious.”
The win moves the Ice Dogs closer to securing a playoff berth. They sit at 34-11-7 atop the North American Hockey League’s West Division with 75 points, seven points ahead of the second-place Wenatchee Wild. Kenai River is in fourth place behind the Alaska Avalanche, with a 26-21-3 record and 55 points.
The two teams square off again tonight. The puck drops at 7:30 at the Dipper.
“We need to be better defensively,” Stewart said, anticipating today’s game. “We gave them too many opportunities this time. If we do that and are able to cash in on all our own opportunities, we’ll be OK.”
Munson anticipates tonight’s game will be an ever tougher battle.
“They’ll come out harder,” he said. “We made them mad beating them, so we’ll have to be ready for and match their intensity.”
In Friday’s game, Ice Dogs goaltender Alex Fons finished with the win, facing 22 shots and coming away with 18 saves. Austin Severson was between the pipes for the Brown Bears, where he saw 35 shots and registered 30 saves.
Contact staff writer Renee Thony at 459-7583.