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Tenacious Fairbanks Ice Dogs win in comeback

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs used a dramatic comeback on Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena to beat rival Alaska Avalanche for the fifth straight time.

The Ice Dogs won the North American Hockey League game 5-4 despite spotting the Avalanche three goals in the first seven minutes. Fairbanks still trailed 4-1 entering the third period but rallied to score four unanswered goals to the delight of 2,112 fans.

“It just shows the guys no matter what the situation is, they can find a way to win the hockey game,” Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said by phone. “It’s a big morale-booster.”

Forward Aaron McGill and defenseman Zach Tolkinen each had a goal and two assists in the third stanza.

McGill, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Salem, Ore., was an unlikely hero as he came into Saturday’s contest with six points in 12 games. He was snatched by the Ice Dogs in December via a loophole in a league rule after being traded in the British Columbia Hockey League, Hauge said.

Shortly after an Avalanche penalty expired, McGill got the game-winner off an assist from Tolkinen with 1:36 remaining in regulation.

“He just found a way to tap in a rebound,” Hauge said.

That sent the fans into a frenzy. The Ice Dogs are now 15-3-0 at the Dipper this season.

“The crowd was unbelievable. They really carried us through the third period. They were so loud,” Hauge said.

McGill also assisted on a power-play marker by Justin Kirchhevel 4:41 into the third and got a helper on Tolkinen’s score at 10:54 that pulled the Ice Dogs within 4-3. Tolkinen beat Avalanche goalie Kale Robertson top shelf on a shot from the point.

The Ice Dogs’ two top scorers combined to tie the game with 6:18 remaining, as Mark Pustin put the puck through Robertson’s five-hole and Michael Juola got his league-leading 39th assist of the season.

Fairbanks goalie Joe Phillippi made eight saves but was pulled after allowing goals to Matthew Friese, Jake Williams and Jake Parenteau in the first 6:23. Mike Taffe relieved him and stopped 31 of 32 shots the rest of the way to improve to 17-2-0 on the season.

The opening 20 minutes were ugly for the Ice Dogs.

“It was embarrassing. The first period was about as bad as we played all year,” Hauge said.

Fairbanks (24-12-1) widened its second-place lead in the West Division to nine points over the Avalanche (17-12-6).

The loss evidently didn’t sit well with the Avalanche, as defenseman Micki Mahailovich received a game misconduct for “abuse of officials” after the final horn.

Hauge, however, was jubilant in describing the victory.

“It was one of the more exciting ones that I’ve been a part of,” he said.

Fairbanks opens a three-game series against last-place Kenai River on Thursday at the Big Dipper.

Contact staff writer Matias Saari at 459-7591.