Larson responds to benching with hat trick in Fairbanks’ win

Larson and teammate Mark Pustin sat out the Ice Dogs’ last game because of poor play the night before. On Friday, they accounted for four of Fairbanks’ goals.

“I worked my butt off this week because I was angry,” Larson said, “not at coach (Josh Hauge) but at myself.”

The 20-year-old from Apple Valley, Minn., buried a shot from the right circle with 9 minutes, 27 seconds to go in the second period to give the Ice Dogs their first lead of the night at 2-1.

He followed that with a tip-in of a Michael Juola shot with 2:14 left in the second — while Wichita Falls was lagging behind from a shift change.

Off a pass from Ice Dogs forward Kyle Politz, Larson took advantage of an open shot with 9:59 remaining in the game. The goal put Fairbanks ahead 4-2 and caused a few ballcaps to be thrown onto the ice.

Pustin provided the Ice Dogs’ first goal of the night 5:02 into the second period when he recovered a blocked shot in the slot and fired above Wildcats goalie Phil Graveline’s glove.

Pustin and Larson lead the Ice Dogs with 11 goals apiece.

“Jared and Mark Pustin did a great job for us tonight,” Hauge said. “We need those guys to be successful for us to have a good team.”

It was the first of four power play goals for Fairbanks, which broke a 20-penalty kill streak for Wichita Falls.

“We took a few stupid penalties and had a few defensive breakdowns tonight,” Wildcats coach John Bowkus said.

The second-period surge was in stark contrast to a sloppy first stanza by Fairbanks in which they turned the puck over eight times in their own zone.

“The first period we played like crap, and the second period we got going,” Larson said. “We turned around and started moving our feet and getting the puck out wide.”

The turnaround wasn’t enough to please Hauge entirely.

“I expect a lot from this team, and everybody in Fairbanks should, too,” he said. “… If were not going to play hard for 60 (minutes), then I’m not happy with it.”

Larson and Pustin weren’t the only Ice Dogs earning redemption.

Goalie Mike Taffe gave Wichita Falls the first goal of the night when he corralled the puck into his own net.

Taffe attempted to dump the puck to a defenseman, but it went off his left skate and into the net, putting the Wildcats ahead 1-0 at 3 minutes, 48 seconds into the game.

“I was just being nervous because it was my first start (in the Big Dipper),” he said. “… When you’re nervous, it makes the things you do normally 100 times harder.”

But the same atmosphere that caused Taffe’s anxiety helped him rebound.

“I heard all the fans yelling ‘don’t worry about it’ and my teammates saying ‘don’t worry,’” he said. “I had a team of twelve-hundred people pushing me.”

The 18-year-old netminder stopped 47 shots to improve his record to 5-1-0.

James Saintey put the finishing touches on Fairbanks’ scoring, angling in a shot by defenseman Josh Nelson with 3:13 left in the game.

Contact staff writer Joshua Armstrong at 459-7583.