FAIRBANKS — A nearly half-minute of uptempo play set the stage for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs’ victory over the Lone Star Brahmas in Friday night’s matchup of the last two Robertson Cup champions in the North American Hockey League.
The Ice Dogs, aided by two goals in a 33-second span in the first period, prevailed 3-1 over last season’s champions in the opener of the nondivisional series at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“That was a good start for us. We had jump,’’ said Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart, who guided Fairbanks to the 2016 Robertson Cup.
“They made some adjustments as the game went along and it made it tougher for us to have that speed, especially through the neutral zone,’’ Stewart said. “It’s something we’ve got to look in video and hopefully be a better team tomorrow (today).”
The series’ first goal occurred at 4:38 of the first and it started with Jack Johnston collecting a loose puck from an errant Brahmas pass. Johnston sent the puck up to Jax Murray, who carried it into the left circle and cross-passed to Samuel Ruffin, who lined in his 13th goal and team-high 36th point of the season.
At 5:11, Luke Orysiuk skated between the goal line and left circle, seemingly intending to pass the puck. The Ice Dogs team captain snapped an unassisted shot over the shoulder of Brahmas goaltender Mitchell Gibson.
“I think their d-man took away the pass, and I thought I’d throw it on net. I got a little lucky,” said Orysiuk, who was assisted by Grayson Gavin and Connor Chilton.
Orysiuk and Hunter Wendt helped Erkka Vanska score an empty-net goal with 9 seconds left in the third period.
Gibson, who had been pulled for an extra attacker with 1:40 left in the third period, registered 15 saves for the night for the visitors from North Richland Hills, Texas. Lone Star is in third place in the South Division at 17-10-4-2 for 40 points.
Josh Benson, the reigning Bauer Hockey/NAHL Midwest Division Star of the Week, compiled 24 saves for Fairbanks, which raised its first-place record in the Midwest Division to 24-5-3-2 for 53 points.
The Ice Dogs also are unbeaten in 17 games (15-0-2-0), but the Brahmas made it tough for them in the second period.
Lone Star got its first goal of the series at 15:35 of the period, as Steven Ipri redirected in Jakub Sirota’s shot from the top of the right circle. Justin Addamo had the initial assist.
The Brahmas also killed a five-minute power play for the Ice Dogs, who denied two man-advantage sessions for Lone Star during the middle period. The Brahmas were faster in the period, too.
“They were getting clean releases to go get the puck and they had a little more time and space, and kind of played with speed back against us,’’ Stewart said. “So we were playing with our backs toward the goal and we wanted to attack more.”
The Ice Dogs withstood a 6-on-4 power play during the last two minutes of the game.
“It was very good execution, especially with the goaltender pulled,’’ Stewart said. “They did some things on the power play that we’re going to have to talk about and look at on video, for sure.”
The series ends with today’s game at 7:30 p.m.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.