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Newcomers look for playing time with Ice Dogs

Danny Martin, DMARTIN@NEWSMINER.COM

FAIRBANKS — Chris Cahill saw a lot of new faces at last season’s training camp for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Those newcomers helped the Ice Dogs capture the Robertson Cup championship of the North American Hockey League.

Cahill is seeing an abundance of new faces again in this year’s training camp, which featured a scrimmage Tuesday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. The scrimmage, with two 30-minute

periods rather than the typical three 20-minute periods, was free and open to the public.

 “This year, you’re starting off new and trying to figure out where everybody is going to be,’’ said Cahill, an Anchorage native and a right wing for the Ice Dogs for the past two seasons.

The newcomers this season could duplicate the efforts of last season’s newcomers.

“It’s pretty nice,’’ Cahill said. “You get to learn about where people play, what their playing style is. We want to win games this year and go back-to-back (for the Robertson Cup).”

Thirty-one players participated in the scrimmage — 16 for the Brown team and 15 for the White team.

Cahill was among six returners from last season in the scrimmage.  The others were goaltender CJ Boothe; defensemen Aaron McPheters, Luke Orysiuk and Marc Sullivan; and center Ryan Kero.

The fans at the scrimmage also were introduced to seven players whom the Ice Dogs selected in the NAHL Draft in June: Centers Hampus Eriksson, Sam Ruffin and Patrick Flynn; right wing Brendan Sheehan; and defensemen Dean Hewines, Nolan Schaeffer and Benton Maass.

Schaeffer, a 19-year-old defenseman from Marshall, Minnesota, was the Ice Dogs’ first pick in the draft. The former skater with the Fargo (North Dakota) Force of the United States Hockey League was selected in the first round and 24th overall.

“We wanted to make it known what we have up here, and we have 30 players who are fighting for spots,’’ said Trevor Stewart, who’s entering his sixth season as the Ice Dogs head coach.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions at the end of the month,’’ Stewart continued. “It (the scrimmage) was a good starting point for us today and to kind of see where some guys might fit in certain roles on our team. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a good starting point for us.”

Twenty-three players is the maximum an NAHL team can carry on its roster during the regular season.

The Ice Dogs end their training camp Friday and the defending Midwest Division regular-season and playoff titlists open their 2016-17 campaign Sept. 15 with a three-game series against the Topeka RoadRunners in Topeka, Kansas.

The Ice Dogs play four games in the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, from Sept. 21-24, and they have their home opener against the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. Each game against Johnstown starts at 7:30 p.m.

Nick Rogers is among those battling for a roster. The 19-year-old right wing from Dubuque, Iowa,  helped his chances at 13:30 into the first period.

Rogers, who skated for the White team, had the lone goal of the game. He positioned himself near the right post, collected a pass and snuck a backhand past Brown team goaltender Jared Dempsey’s skate.

The play, Rogers said, was born at the blue line.

“My winger was coming up the sideboards and I was crashing the net,’’ Rogers said, “and he threw it to me and I just tapped it in.”

The goal also helped with his transition to a new hockey program.

 “It’s a lot faster, practices are intense, and I’m just getting back in shape,’’ Rogers said. Dempsey got comfortable as the scrimmage progressed, and the native of Grosse-Pointe Farms, Michigan, made some impressive stops of the Brown team.

“The ‘D’ really came together, they made it easy for me,’’ said Dempsey, who skated last season with Connecticut of the United States Premier Hockey League.

“They kept guys to the outside; I just made some simple saves and it worked out in my favor,’’ he added.

Ice Dogs veterans, particularly Boothe, have helped 18-year-old nettender adjust to the program.

“Playing for the one of the top teams in the (North American Hockey) league, it’s expected that we do well,’’ Dempsey said. “The guys have kind of made an effort to let all the new guys know that you’ve got work hard and you’ve got to earn your spot.

“Hopefully, it works out well for everybody,’’ he added.

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:  @newsminersports.