by Matias Saari
FAIRBANKS – There was no love lost on Friday night between Fairbanks and Texas – with the Tornado pinning a lopsided loss on the Ice Dogs in their first meeting in two seasons.
The former rivals of the North American Hockey League\’s South Division got worked up early on – four players were ejected for fighting in the first 10 minutes – though once they settled down a bit Texas dominated with a 6-2 win in front of a nearly packed Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The half-dozen goals were the most Texas, which snapped a three-game losing streak, has dropped on an opponent all season.
\”We\’ve been good defensively this year for the most part,\” Texas coach Tony Curtale said. \”We haven\’t been very good offensively. Today I thought were a little more creative.\”
The six goals were also the most Fairbanks, losers of three straight, has allowed this season.
After a lengthy postgame meeting with his squad, Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said by phone that there is too much individualism going on.
\”We don\’t play as a team right now. That\’s why we\’re having the failures that we\’re having,\” he said.
The Tornado outworked the Ice Dogs, Hauge said.
\”At the end of the day, it comes down to one-on-one battles and work ethic,\” Hauge said. \”When you lose those battles, you\’re going to lose the game.\”
After Texas goalie Dan Sullivan stopped an Ice Dogs breakaway in the opening minutes, Tornado forward Tyler Underhill put his team ahead with 11:18 remaining in the first period on an unlikely score. From behind the Ice Dogs\’ net, Underhill intentionally fired the puck off Fairbanks\’ goalie Jake Williams\’ left shoulder blade and into the net.
Underhill saw little of the ice thereafter. Just 29 seconds later, he was ejected – along with a teammate and North Pole 16-year-old Jared Linnell of the Ice Dogs – in a melee that saw 74 penalty minutes assessed to 10 players and only the goaltenders not involved.
Just before that brawl, Fairbanks lost newcomer Raymond Leroux for fighting at 12:41 of the first period.
Texas extended its lead to 2-0 barely a minute into the second period when defenseman Mico Solorzano tallied his third goal of the season. The Ice Dogs nearly responded less than a minute later, but defenseman Zach Tolkinen\’s wrister from near the blue line clanged off the inside of the right post.
With the score 3-0 and the crowd restless for something to cheer about, Fairbanks\’ Michael Juola finally put the Ice Dogs on the board with a power-play marker 8:12 into the third. His shot from the left circle beat Texas goalie Dan Sullivan (30 saves) high to his glove side.
But the Tornado broke the Ice Dogs\’ back 1:13 later on a David Rigatti score.
\”It was big because obviously they\’ve got the home crowd and everything going again and it\’s only a two-goal lead,\” Curtale said. \”We\’ve been talking about as a team responding better when we get scored against.\”
Shay Cizmar of Texas then scored as many goals in 109 seconds as he\’d had all season. The first was an empty-net goal with 6:46 remaining followed by a point-blank score with 4:57 to go.
Fairbanks\’ James Saintey capped the scoring with a shorthanded score with 1:51 left.
Fairbanks (10-11-1) is now in the NAHL\’s West Division, while Texas (8-9-2) returned to the South Division after a year off.
\”We didn\’t have a team last year because they rebuilt our rink,\” Curtale said, calling his squad an \”expansion\” team. \”So we started from scratch again this year.\”
Williams made 23 saves before being pulled in favor of Mike Taffe with five minutes remaining. Taffe recorded six saves and will get the nod in net on Saturday, Hauge said.
The teams will conclude their two-game series at 7:30 tonight at the Big Dipper, and Hauge expects a shake-up on the roster. He\’s looking for leadership from captains Jared Larson and Jon Waggoner in particular.
\”I\’m sure there\’s definitely going to be some changes in the lineup. Right now I\’m looking for somebody to step up and take control of this team,\” Hauge said.
Contact staff writer Matias Saari at 459-7591.