FAIRBANKS- The Minnesota Wilderness and Fairbanks Ice Dogs met over the weekend for games one and two of their NAHL midwest divisional playoff. The Ice Dogs won 3-2 in overtime on Friday before claiming a dominant 7-1 win on Saturday to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best of five series. Game three and if needed games four and five will be played in Cloquet.
Bounces and timely goals allowed Fairbanks to claim victory in a game they really had no business winning Friday night. Jacob Conrad’s power play shot deflected off a Wilderness defenseman’s skate and into the back of the net to stake the Dogs to a 1-0 lead after the first period of play. Minnesota outshot the Ice Dogs 21-6 in the second period. One of those shots found its way past Kaden Hargraves to knot the game at one after 40 minutes of play. William Perrson struck 7 minutes into the third period to put the visitors up 2-1. The score stayed that way until deep into the third period. With Hargraves pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Alexander Malinowski flipped a back-handed pass from the rear boards out front to an awaiting Tyler Stewart who buried a one-time shot to tie the game at 3 with 27 seconds left in regulation.
The Dogs found themselves short-handed 44 seconds into overtime thanks to a boarding call on Tristan Sarsland. With less than a minute remaining on the Wilderness power play, Conrad cleared a puck that found Malinowski’s tape in the neutral zone, creating an Ice Dog odd-man rush as he streaked up the right wing. Following a give and go with Brandon Miles, Malinowski ripped a one-time shot that was blocked, leaving a loose puck out front that Miles immediately deposited into the back of the net, sealing a 3-2 Ice Dogs win. Hargraves stopped 35 of the 37 shots he faced, making several highlight reel saves in the process.
“It’s just crazy to get a three on one while shorthanded,” Miles said of his game winner. “Mal (Malinowski) made a great play to get me the puck, so I sent it back to him and the next thing I knew the puck was sitting there and I put everything I had into that shot. I’m glad it went in.”
Game two looked to be a repeat of game one, with Minnesota controlling much of the first seven minutes of the game. However, a high stick minor assessed to the Wilderness put the Ice Dogs on the power play, and the Dogs power play was clicking Saturday night. A tick-tack-toe play ended with Keven Marx Noren burying a back-door goal with assists from Jack Ring and Jake Hale to put the Dogs up 1-0 at 8:34 of the first. With the Dogs again on the power play just over two minutes later, Sarsland sent a seeing-eye puck from up top that rattled into the cage, extending the Dogs’ lead to 2-0. The Dogs’ completed the 1st period power play trifecta when Stewart laced a pass from the right wing circle cross-ice to Hale who lit the lamp with a backdoor howitzer to make it a 3-0 Ice Dogs lead.
Fairbanks kept its foot on the pedal in the second period, as Ring scored twice, with Billy Renfrew and Braden Lindstrom also notching goals to extend the lead to 7-0 after 40 minutes of play. Gunnar Thoreson broke up the Dogs’ bid for a shutout, scoring the lone Wilderness with less than two minutes to play in the 7-1 Ice Dog win.
Hargraves again stood on his head, stopping 37 of 38 Wilderness shots. He made a pipe-to-pipe save in the second period that sent the capacity crowd into a frenzy. Hargraves stopped 75 of 78 shots on the weekend.
“He’s just a great athlete,” Ice Dogs’ Head Coach Dave Allison said of his net minder. “He doesn’t get rattled and just goes about his business. It’s rare to see that combination of calmness and athleticism in a goaltender.”
The Dogs will depart for the Land of 10,000 Lakes Tuesday morning in preparation for Friday’s game three in Cloquet. If needed game four takes place Saturday night. Should the series go to a deciding game five, it would be played in Cloquet on Monday (May 1), with the Ice Dogs serving as the home team.