In the end, most spectators likely left the arena stunned by what transpired.
Janesville forward Simon Sagissor guided the Jets to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Ice Dogs, as he completed a once-in-a-lifetime play to beat Fairbanks goaltender Josh Benson with 5:58 left in the extra frame.
Novak, who led the North American Hockey League with 73 points during the regular season, kicked the pass — which was deflected — out of midair with the outside of his skate. The puck never touched the ice before returning to Sagissor’s stick.
The Janesville forward launched a shot past Benson, ending the game and giving the Jets a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five Midwest Division Finals.
“It ended up on my stick and I saw Jakov. You always want to get the puck to him because he’s going to do something with it,” Sagissor said. “It was a spectacular play by him. He kicked it to me out of midair and then it went from there.”
It was a heart-breaking outcome for the Ice Dogs, who saw a 2-0 lead disappear when Jets forward Sam Renlund scored two third-period goals — his sixth and seventh of the postseason.
“We played good the first two periods,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “Obviously we came out in the third period and stopped moving our feet. We made some dumb mistakes and another one in overtime.
“They just made one more play than we did.”
Jax Murray gave the Ice Dogs a 1-0 lead in the first period when he roofed a backhanded shot into the top corner past Janesville backup goaltender Daniel Lebedeff. Daniel Haider made it 2-0 in the second, finishing off a pass from Hunter Wendt after Wendt picked Jets defenseman John Pesek’s pocket as Pesek led a breakout out of Janesville’s zone.
It appeared Fairbanks was going to pad its late in the second period, but the referees waved off a goal by Tanner Schachle, who crashed the net and collided with the puck in the air before it crossed the goal line.
Referee Riley Yerkovich and linesmen Kilian McNamara and Jason Gillam brought the Boo-Birds out at the Big Dipper all weekend, though the no-goal call really sent the crowd into a rage with 16 seconds left in the middle frame.
“They said it was a hand pass,” Stewart said when asked what the referees said Schachle did wrong. “I think that’s three disallowed goals this series.”
Both teams had scoring chances in overtime. Lebedeff (31 saves) robbed Wendt on a breakaway, and Benson (22 saves) fell on his back to stop a backhand by Benji Eckerle minutes later.
Stewart said it took the Ice Dogs awhile to get back in a groove offensively after Renlund evened the score in the third period.
“It takes a little while, once you give up a two-goal lead, to get it back,” he said. “We came out for overtime and we were rejuvenated and ready to go.”
But Janesville was ready to go, too.
It was a clean hit by Wendt, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound forward from Troy, Michigan. Wendt simply got all of LaMaster, whose absence motivated the Janesville players to dig a little deeper.
“He’s come in and battled every single minute for us,” Sagissor said of LaMaster, a University of Wisconsin commit who joined the team with seven games left in the regular season.
“He didn’t know anyone coming in. He was the new guy, and it’s like he’s been here for two years. We wanted to do everything we could to win it for him.”
Now the Ice Dogs’ backs are up against the wall as the series shifts to Janesville, Wisconsin, for Game 4 at 4 p.m. AKST Friday. If Fairbanks wins, the rivals will meet in a winner-takes-all Game 5 at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re not done,” Stewart said. “We’ve been good on the road all year. We won 24 games in a row, there’s no reason we can’t go win one Friday and get ready to go Saturday.”
It wasn’t the way the Ice Dogs envisioned their final game of the season would end at the Big Dipper, but general manager Rob Proffitt said he was grateful that the community rallied around the team all season.
“I’d like to thank all of our sponsors, volunteers, billet families and our season ticket holders for their continuous support year after year,” he said.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.