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Saturday

Ice Dogs shut out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton again for two-game sweep

FAIRBANKS — It’s as big of a sports cliche as there is: every team wants to play their best at the end of the season.

However, for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, that old saying has undoubtedly rang true during the final month of the regular season.

After dishing out a 7-0 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights on Friday, the Ice Dogs continued to thump their North American Hockey League counterpart in Saturday’s series finale.

Although Fairbanks held a modest two-goal advantage after two periods of play, it exploded for four goals in the third and cruised to a 6-0 victory over the Knights at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

“It was definitely a game, especially through the first two periods,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “There was a challenge put forth by our team going into the third to play with a little more energy and I thought they did that. Hats off to our guys for the way they played tonight.”

With the weekend sweep, the Ice Dogs improved their overall record to 28-24-2-1 for 59 points in the standings. WBS, meanwhile, dropped to 26-25-1-3 on the year.

On Friday, it was forward Cayden Cahill who sparked the offensive outpour with a hat trick.

Although five players beat Knights goaltender Grant Valentine on Saturday, it was Hunter Wendt who got things started 9:40 into the contest.

Wendt’s 17th goal of the season was set up by Dean Hewines, who launched a crossing pass through the slot to Wendt.

Once Hewines’ pass made it through the zone, there was little the WBS goaltender could do to keep the Ice Dogs off the scoreboard.

“It was a good play by Dean and that was a good way to start the game,” Wendt said. “I thought that got the guys going.”

Connor Chilton extended the team’s lead to 2-0 in the second period before Hampus Eriksson blew the game open with a pair of one-

timers minutes apart from one another in the final frame.

Robert Blueger and Luke Orysiuk each tickled the twine in the waning minutes.

Hewines and Erkka Vanska both recorded two assists apiece, while Orysiuk, Cahill, Bauer Neudecker, Daniel Haider, Benton Maass, Aaron McPheters and Christian Sanda all had a helper in the win.

Fairbanks goalie Erik Gordon said that when the team is scoring in bunches, everybody feels better about themselves.

“It gives everybody confidence,” Gordon said. “It’s not just me but the entire team.”

Although the Duluth, Georgia, native only needed to make 22 saves to secure his second straight shutout, Gordon was there when his teammates needed him.

“Gordo was good the whole weekend,” Stewart said. “I didn’t think he had to make too many big saves. But when he was called upon, he made the saves.”

For Gordon, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Lone Star Brahmas, being a key contributor during the team’s recent hot streak has been a joy.

“It’s been great. The guys have been great letting me be a part of the family here,” he said. “It’s been awesome playing in front of the fans, it’s a great atmosphere here.”

Between the team’s stingy defense and explosive offense — Fairbanks peppered Valentine with 45 shots on goal on Saturday — the Ice Dogs seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

Still, with the Topeka RoadRunners coming to the Big Dipper for a two-game series next weekend, Stewart knows his team can reach another level before the Midwest Division playoffs begin in April.

“There’s definitely more potential,” the coach said. “We’re still figuring out our roster and our lineup. We just need to keep working to make it to the playoffs.”

Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @bradjoyal.