FAIRBANKS — It wouldn’t be Fairbanks Ice Dogs hockey if it didn’t go down to the wire.
The Ice Dogs scored three goals in the final six minutes of the game to claim a 4-2 victory against the Michigan Warriors and win the Robertson Cup Finals championship game, claiming the USA Hockey Junior A Tier II national championship at the Kansas ExpoCentre in Topeka, Kan.
“I don’t even know what to say. It’s just one of the best, if not the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” an emotional Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said in a telephone interview after the celebration died down and the team was packing to leave the arena late Saturday night.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for our players, our organization and our town,” Hauge continued. “It’s just an incredible feeling that I can’t describe right now.”
It is the first national championship for the Ice Dogs since the organization was founded in 1997 and the first for any Fairbanks hockey team since the Alaska Gold Kings earned the USA Hockey Senior Men’s national title in 1995.
“When we built this organization, we wanted to be considered elite, and the only piece of the puzzle that was missing to accomplish that was a national championship,” Ice Dogs general manager Rob Proffitt said. “Tonight was the closing chapter to the perfect manual for building a program.
“From the fans, to the building, to the community, to sponsorships and the whole thing, there was only one thing missing,” he continued. “Now, no one can take it away from us and we’re going to build on that.”
The Ice Dogs won Saturday night’s game as they had their two previous tournament games: with lots of goals in the third period.
“It just goes to show that these guys keep working hard and never quite,” Hauge said. “When we made adjustments on the bench, they went out on the ice and did what they needed to do to make them work.”
Proffitt had another theory.
“I guess his strategy was to only have them execute in the third period,” he said with a childlike giggle.
Fairbanks opened the tournament beating the host Topeka RoadRunners 4-3 after blowing a 3-0 lead on Tuesday night.
In the second game of the round-robin tournament, the Ice Dogs scored four goals in the third period, posting a 4-2 win against Michigan.
Fairbanks scored twice in the third period on Thursday to beat the Amarillo Bulls 2-1 in the final round-robin game.
While the Ice Dogs gave their coaches a few more gray hairs by scoring 10 of their last 11 tournament goals in the third period, goalie Joe Phillippi was at the other end of the ice stopping just about everything that came his way.
Phillippi, who made 23 saves in Saturday night’s championship game, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“He was unbelievable,” said Tayler Munson, who was named to the all-tournament team. “He’s reason we won these games. He’s a great person and a great goaltender, and I hope he gets the chance to keep playing this game.”
As for his own performance in the tournament, Munson said, “I really wouldn’t have cared much if we would have lost, but it’s a great feeling. It’s a real thrill and I would like to thank my teammates for helping me.”
Big John Stampohar (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) registered a goal and two assists Saturday night, while Pete Spratte, Alexander Jensen and Alec Hajdukovich scored in the third period as the Ice Dogs registered their third straight come-from-behind victory.
Stampohar scored in the first period to tie the game 1-1, then set up Spratte’s game-tying goal at 14:38 of the third period, touching off the three-goal outburst.
“Gabe Levin got the puck out of the corner and Pete jumped through the back door and got a great pass from John and put it away,” Hauge said. “Once we got that one, our guys were flying and we just crushed them.”
Jenson netted the game-winning goal at the 16:17 mark off an assist from Preston Hodge.
“It was a great play by Jensen, who took a pass from off the back post and Jenner deflected it in,” Hauge said.
Hajdukovich sealed the deal at 18:30 by using a Michigan defenseman as a screen and ripping a shot past Michigan goalie Robert Tadazak, who was the NAHL regular season MVP.
Ninety seconds later, the Robertson Cup was headed to Fairbanks.
“It was pure pandemonium,” Hauge said. “The celebration was totally crazy.”
Contact sports editor Bob Eley at 459-7581.