FAIRBANKS — A North Pole teen lit the lamp in his first Junior A game, a Swede had a breakout performance, and there was no shortage of goals or fisticuffs at the Big Dipper Ice Arena Saturday night.
Amid the busy night, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the Wichita Falls Wildcats 7-2 in a North American Hockey League contest.
Jared Linnell, a 16-year-old who attends North Pole High School, didn’t have the most important goal of the night, but the score with 6 minutes remaining highlighted a night he had anxiously awaited.
“I’ve been excited this whole week,” he said before teammates poured water down the back of his jersey and slapped baby powder on his face.
Coming from behind the Wildcats’ goal, Linnell smacked the puck from a Wichita Falls player and into the net. That play earned him the game puck from coach Josh Hauge.
The Ice Dogs’ offensive charge was led by forward Johan Skinnars of Leskand, Sweden, who notched his second and third goals of the season.
Skinnars has been adapting to the North American game in his first stint with a U.S. team.
“He’s been getting better and better as he gets used to the game over here,” Hauge said.
In his first score of the night, a shot from the left board 5:10 into the first period, he giddily pumped his fists toward the crowd.
He seemed more cool-headed as he knocked in his second goal at 2:27 of the third period.
“Some days the goals come, and some days they won’t,” he said. “It’s hard work; that’s what we need to keep in mind. We need to work hard to play like this.”
That kind of calm reason was rare on the ice, as fights broke out regularly and drops of blood occasionally dotted the ice.
“They’re a tough team and they’ll try to intimidate people,” Hauge said. “We stood up to them. … We want to be a skill team, but we want to stand up for each other, too.”
The Ice Dogs stormed to a 3-0 lead in the first period with goals from defenseman Zach Tolkinen, Skinnars and forward Kyle Politz.
Tolkinen scored on a power play 4 minutes, 39 seconds in to the game. He let a blue-line shot fly and it careened off a few jerseys before hitting the net high inside the left post. Skinnars scored 31 seconds later.
The bang-bang goals were enough to send Wichita Falls goalie Brian Phillips to the bench. He was replaced by Phil Graveline.
Politz got a breakaway, skated by a fallen defender and slipped the puck between Graveline’s pads with 4:49 remaining in the first period.
The Wildcats didn’t take long to get back in the game on a shorthanded score from forward Daniel Genzler with 2:55 left in the first.
In the final seconds of the first period, the puck was sent bouncing oddly in front of the crease, and Wichita Falls forward Anthony Iaquito tapped it off the left post. It crossed the goal line just before the buzzer sounded.
Mark Pustin gave the Ice Dogs some breathing room in the second period, scoring 1:52 into the stanza. It came courtesy of a 3-on-1 rush involving Pustin, Politz and forward Brock Carlston.
North Pole native Jon Feaval planted the Ice Dogs’ sixth goal of the night with 11:20 remaining in the game.
Fairbanks goalie Jake Williams made his first start for the Ice Dogs, making 31 saves in the win. He first practiced with the team Wednesday.
Phillips took the loss for the Wildcats. He returned to the game with about 10 minutes remaining in the third.