- By Brad Joyal, BJOYAL@NEWSMINER.COM
- May 4, 2018
FAIRBANKS — The Ice Dogs guaranteed themselves one more game for all the marbles.
Fairbanks forward Caleb Hite was searching for his first postseason goal when he entered Friday’s must-win Game 4 against Janesville in the Midwest Division Finals. The Grand Blanc, Michigan, native was among the Ice Dogs’ most productive scorers during the regular season, though that magic hadn’t carried over to the playoffs.
Until Friday night.
Hite saved his best postseason performance for when the team needed him the most, scoring two goals to help lift the Ice Dogs to a 4-2 victory over the Jets in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Now Hite and Fairbanks meet Janesville in a winner-takes-all Game 5 at 4 p.m. AKDT today with a trip to the Robertson Cup on the line.
“He’s a consistent performer,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart
said of Hite. “He has been all year and tonight he got rewarded for going to the front of the net. He was up front and tipped in Sam Ruffin’s shot for the go-ahead goal. It was a big night for him.”
Hite gave Fairbanks a 2-0 lead when he beat Janesville goaltender Daniel Lebedeff at the 14:10 mark in the opening period. Although the Ice Dogs brought that lead into the first intermission, the Jets stormed back to turn the game into another pressure-filled nail-biter.
Jakov Novak, who last week was named the North American Hockey League’s MVP and Forward of the Year after posting a league-best 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists) during the regular season, put Janesville on the board.
Novak bested Fairbanks goaltender Josh Benson to cut the team’s deficit in half 8:21 into the second period. His linemate, Sam Renlund, tied the game at 2 when he buried his eighth goal of the playoffs 3:09 into the third period.
The Ice Dogs were on their heels until they went on a power play at the 7:40 mark of the final period.
Hite and the rest of the unit made the most of the man advantage, as he crashed the net and deflected Ruffin’s blast. Fairbanks captain Luke Orysiuk was credited for an assist on the play, too.
“It was huge,” Stewart said of the timely goal. “It was executed perfectly. It was a shot in the lane with bodies out front, the goalie couldn’t see the puck.”
Erkka Vanska gave the Ice Dogs some cushion when he netted an insurance goal past Lebedeff (24 saves) with 7:06 remaining.
Benson (18 saves) and the Ice Dogs held on to tie the best-of-five series at 2.
“Our game was pretty simple,” Stewart said. “We were pretty good at the defensive end. In the offensive zone, we had guys going to the net. We’ll have to do that again tomorrow if we want to move on and play for a national championship.”
Jax Murray continued his hot streak by putting Fairbanks on top just 2:43 into the contest. It was the fourth postseason goal for Murray, and Jack Johnston and Ruffin both earned helpers on the play.
The Ice Dogs are looking to clinch their first trip to the Robertson Cup since they ended the 2015-16 season with a national title. Janesville represented the Midwest in last year’s Robbie Cup after earning a 3-1 series win over the Ice Dogs in the division finals.
Stewart said his squad won’t approach Game 5 differently than it would any other game.
“The first thing is our recovery,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re getting good rest tonight, drinking lots of water and get a good meal. Tomorrow will be a normal game day for us. We’ll go about it the way we normally would.”
After falling behind 2-1 when the series began last weekend in Fairbanks, Stewart said the players are ready to finish the finals with one last battle.
“The guys are pumped up,” he said.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.