By Brad Joyal, BJOYAL@NEWSMINER.COM
FAIRBANKS — It didn’t take the Fairbanks Ice Dogs long to get the bad taste of Friday’s loss out of their mouths.
One night after the Ice Dogs suffered a 5-1 loss to the Bismarck Bobcats, the team gave Fairbanks hockey fans something to cheer about only 12 seconds into Saturday’s series finale at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Fairbanks defenseman John Stampohar lifted the team to an early lead seconds into the game, and Mason Vukonich and Kyle Mayhew also netted the goals to guide the Ice Dogs to a 3-1 victory over the visiting Bobcats.
“It was much better than last night,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said after his team improved to 10-5-1-2. “We did the little things a little bit better and we were rewarded with some more scoring opportunities. Obviously our power play needs to find a way to generate some offense — but besides that, we did a pretty decent job.”
Although the Ice Dogs allowed the Bobcats to even the score at 1 when Adam Stacho beat Fairbanks goaltender Logan Neaton with 11 seconds remaining in the opening frame, the team answered with goals on Bismarck (9-8-2-0) netminder Ryan Ullan during the second and third periods.
Vukonich, a forward from Phoenix, Arizona, buried the eventual game-winner 9:17 into the middle frame. He muscled a wrist shot off Ullan and into the net to give the Ice Dogs a 2-1 advantage.
It was the first goal of Vukonich’s career.
“I’m really happy about it,” he said. “It was a lucky one, it bounced off his shoulder. We’ve played behind a lot in this building, so it felt really good to give the team a lead.”
Mayhew extended Fairbanks’ lead to 3-1 when he put home a wrist shot from the slot after Erkka Vanska skated through the zone and found him with a behind-the-pack pass.
Neaton helped the Ice Dogs snap their two-game losing skid with 14 saves in the win. The Brighton, Michigan, native’s biggest stop of the night came with 7:56 remaining in the contest.
After a Fairbanks turnover, Bismarck’s Cooper Harr broke loose for a breakaway, though Neaton made a kick save to keep the team’s 2-1 lead intact.
“He was good,” Stewart said of the goalie. “He was calm and played some pucks well. He did a good job and was a big reason for why we found a way to be victorious.”
Ullan made 22 saves for the Bobcats, who struggled to light the lamp at the same pace they did Friday.
“I don’t think we were very good tonight,” Bismarck head coach Layne Sedevie said. “We had a lot more jump (Friday) night, that’s for sure. We couldn’t find away to tie the game. We had our chances but we couldn’t find a second one tonight.”
Despite allowing the Bobcats to net the equalizer late in the first period, Stampohar said his goal — which came off a wrist shot from the slot and zoomed past Ullan’s blocker into the top shelf of the net — helped give the Ice Dogs a spark in the opening seconds.
“We knew we had to come out flying right from the start,” he said. “We knew that’s the attitude that most of the teams we play have. We felt if we could put the first puck into the net, we were going to have success.”
The Ice Dogs will continue their homestand with a two-game series against the Minot Minotauros next weekend. Fairbanks and Minot will meet Friday and Saturday at the Big Dipper. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.