By Danny Martin
FAIRBANKS — Fairbanks Ice Dogs fans threw caps on the ice after Caleb Hite scored a hat trick. That was one of the few bright spots for the Ice Dogs on Saturday night in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The Ice Dogs fell 5-3 to the Minnesota Magicians one night after coming up a short in a shootout against their rival in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.
The Ice Dogs trailed 1-0 in the first period of the finale of Fairbanks’ home-opening weekend series. The Ice Dogs seemed to be off track in the second period, where they trailed 4-0.
“We got outworked, they had way more plays than us,’’ Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “Credit to them, I thought our guys’ performance was embarrassing.
“It seemed like a lot of guys didn’t want to be here. They showed no interest in competing and that ‘s the result,’’ Stewart added.
Fairbanks recovered from its dismal second period to cut Minnesota’s lead to 4-3 in the third period after Hite scored the goals Nos. 2 and 3 during the first seven minutes of the stanza. The Magicians, however, tacked on an insurance goal later in the third, causing several Ice Dogs fans to head to the Big Dipper exits.
“For whatever reason, we didn’t have in the first two periods for the last two nights,’’ Hite said. “I think we played hard in the third period but that’s just not enough in this league. It’s got to be for 60 minutes.”
The Ice Dogs, 7-3-0-2 for 16 points in the Midwest standings, missed making ground on the first place Janesville Jets and are only two points in front of the third-place Magicians (6-3-1-1). Janesville (10-2-0-0) won 3-2 over the sixth-place Coulee Region Chill on Saturday in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
The Ice Dogs got assists from Hunter Wendt, Samuel Ruffin, Daniel Haider and John Stampohar. Starting goaltender Josh Benson recorded 10 saves and Logan Neaton had eight saves after coming in during the second period.
Ethan DeStefani also had a hat trick and Cameron Buhl scored two goals for the Magicians, who got 28 saves from Isaiah Saville, a University of Nebraska Omaha recruit from Anchorage.
After the Ice Dogs missed on the first power play of the game, the Magicians produced the game’s first score at 11:42 of the opening period.
DeStefani came out of the penalty box after serving an elbowing minor. With help from Ben Schultheis and Noah Lugli, DeStefani took the puck along the right wing, cut across the right circle and tucked a quick shot between Benson’s pads.
DeStefani found the back of the net again at 7:04 of the second period with a high wrist from the left circle, courtesy of assists from Jarrett Lee and Brendan Skarda.
Buhl stretched the Magicians’ lead at 12:48 of with a power-play shot from the right circle that was set up by Matt Denman and Skarda.
Buhl returned again to the stat sheet again at 14:48, popping in a back-door shot at the left post. The goal was assisted by Bram Scheerer and Matthew Stanton, and it led to Benson being replaced by Logan Neaton, who had an impressive glove stop on a short 2-on-0 breakaway at 17:43 of the second.
The Ice Dogs erased the zero on the scoreboard with Hite’s one-timer shot from the slot during a power play with 1:11 left in the second period. Hite gained the pass from Wendt, who had got a feed fromRuffin.
It was the start of a surge for the 20-year-old Ice Dogs newcomer from Grand Blanc, Michigan, and for Fairbanks.
At 4:30 of the third, Hite cut the Magicians’ lead in half with a shot that struck the low right post and snuck past Saville’s low stick side.
Hite made a 4-3 at 6:12 and drew a shower of caps on the ice after he skated to the front of the crease and snapped in a low shot between the right post and Saville’s stick blade.
“It was a team thing,’’ Hite said of the hat trick. “We all got together and worked hard for the last 20 minutes.”
DeStefani sealed the win and notched his hat trick with a high shot from the right circle during a power play at 16:09 of the third. Buhl and Stanton had the helpers.
Fairbanks lost 3-2 in the shootout on Friday.
The Ice Dogs return to the Dipper to face the South Division’s Shreveport Mudbugs, of Shreveport, Louisiana, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Mudbugs lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Kenai River Brown Bears on Saturday in the Soldotna Sports Center after Shreveport won 6-2 Friday.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.