The Ice Dogs earned a weekend sweep of their Midwest Divsion and Ravn Alaska Cup Series rival with a 5-2 win Saturday night at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Goaltender Logan Neaton, one night after securing a shutout over the Brown Bears, registered 19 saves and two points each from Hunter Wendt, Jax Murray and Samuel Ruffin helped Fairbanks move into a first-place tie with the Janesville Jets in the Midwest standings.
The Ice Dogs improved to 13-5-2-2 for 30 points in the standings. The Janesville Jets, 14-7-2-0, lost 4-3 in overtime to the Minnesota Magicans on Saturday night in Janesville, Wisconsin.
“We know that we’re still in the mix and there’s a long way to go in the season,’’ Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by cellphone Saturday. “But come Christmas break in a couple of weeks, we’re going to put ourselves in a good position in the standings to make a run in the second half.”
Just as they did during Friday night’s 6-0 victory, the Ice Dogs started strong. On Friday, Fairbanks scored five times in the opening 20 minutes of the game, and on Saturday, the Ice Dogs tacked on four goals in the first period on the Brown Bears’ Olympic-size (200×100 feet) home ice.
“It was very important,’’ Stewart said. “It’s good to see our guys have success and get credit for it. So, hopefully we can continue that and be a team that’s know for coming out strong in the first.”
The Ice Dogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first period Saturday, as Erkka Vanska’s unassisted goal at 8:14 started the surge for the visitors.
Luke Radetic evened the score for the Brown Bears at 11:05 of the first. The unassisted deposit was the 13th goal and 26th point of the season for the Kenai River forward who entered the weekend in a three-way for fourth place among the NAHL’s scoring leaders.
Hunter Wendt produced the go-ahead goal and his first of back-to-back tallies at 14:24 of the first, with assists from Caleb Hite and Samuel Ruffin. Wendt got help from Jax Murray and Luke Orysiuk to put the Ice Dogs ahead 3-1 with a power-play conversion at 18:44.
Ruffin’s unassisted goal with nine seconds left in the first period capped the surge.
Murray recorded the Ice Dogs’ last goal of the weekend, and his third of the season, with an unassisted marker at 6:08 of the second period. Gil Garcia scored unassisted on a power play for the Brown Bears at 1:23 of the third period.
Defense played a huge role in Fairbanks’ first series sweep of the season in its home state. The Ice Dogs limited the Brown Bears to three shots each in the first two periods, while Fairbanks fired 15 shots in each period. Fairbanks ended the night with a 37-21 advantage in shots.
“The guys played well, especially the first two periods,’’ Stewart said. “We got a little undisciplined at the end of the second. We had to obviously start out the third period on a 5-on-3 (power play) and they scored on that.
“The game got a little bit closer, but for the most part we kept them to the outside, transitioned pucks quickly,’’ Stewart said. “It kind of led to us being able to defend by having the puck on our sticks.”
The Ice Dogs were assessed 13 penalties for 63 minutes and the Brown Bears had 13 for 45 minutes.
Gavin Enright made 32 saves for sixth-place Kenai River, 8-14-0-1 for 17 points in the standings.
The Ice Dogs play host to the Brown Bears on Thursday through Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Thursday’s contest is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., and Friday’s and Saturday’s games are each set to begin at 7:30 p.m.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.