FAIRBANKS—The Fairbanks Ice Dogs team playing sound positionally in the first period wasn’t the same squad in the third period against the Alaska Avalanche of Saturday night’s North American Hockey League regular-season finale in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The Ice Dogs lost 5-3 to their West Division rival from Wasilla after leading 1-0 in the first period and 2-1 in the second period.
Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge was bewildered and beside himself after the game. He saw the hosts and division titlists give up three goals in a row before cutting Alaska’s lead to 4-3 with Fairbanks forward Matt Millis’ low-slot deposit on a 6-on-3 power play at the 15:11 mark.
“We fell asleep and we didn’t wake up,” Hauge said of the third period. “It was surreal for me, I didn’t know what was going on. I was trying everything, I was looking for leadership. I just didn’t know where it was, it didn’t happen.”
Avalanche forward Matt Friese parked his second goal of the night into an empty net with 35 seconds left in the game to send the third-place visitors down the Parks Highway with a 2-1 record in the season-ending series.
Exactly 2 minutes, 6 seconds before Millis scored, Avalanche forward Kyle Clapper produced the game-winner and put Alaska ahead 4-2.
Clapper drove to the net and surprised Ice Dogs goaltender Joe Phillippi with a shot from the right side of the crease.
“We kind of came out slow but we did our best to fight with them and we stuck with it,” Clapper said. “We’re just focused on playoffs right now and we really needed this big win. A lot of our guys stepped up and put it away.”
Phillippi registered 26 saves, Zach Vierling and Jared Linnell also scored and Sean O’Rourke had two assists for the Ice Dogs, who turned their attention to the postseason, too, after concluding the regular season at 40-15-3.
Fairbanks plays host to the fourth-place Kenai River Brown Bears in a best-of-five division first-round series. Games 1 and 2 are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Big Dipper. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) take place at the Soldotna Sports Center on April 8 and 9, and if a fifth game is needed, it will be played at the Dipper on Tuesday, April 12.
“We’ve got to come back to work next week. We start a whole new season,” Millis, whose goal was assisted by Gabe Levin and O’Rourke, said. “We’re 0-0 right now. Every one is coming back with the mindset that we’ve got to get to work next week and get after it.”
The Ice Dogs got after it in the first period, leading 1-0 at 2:31 with Vierling’s rebound shot from the left side of Avalanche goaltender Landon Peterson (31 saves), set up by Tyler Voight and Brock Carlston.
An onrushing Linnell tapped in Charlie Thauwald’s centering pass from the right half boards at 7:29 of the second period for the 2-0 Fairbanks lead. O’Rourke also assisted.
Joe Schmitz triggered Alaska’s comeback at 11:29 of the second with a shot from the left circle.
Friese knotted the score with a rebound shot at 1:39 of the third, and Avalanche teammate Andy Pearson tapped in Derek Whitehill’s floating assist in front of the crease at 5:59 for a 3-2 lead.
The Avalanche face the second-place Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.