FAIRBANKS — Despite falling behind 2-0 during the first period of Friday’s home opener at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs didn’t go into the night quietly against North American Hockey League Midwest Division rival Minnesota.
The Ice Dogs erased their two-goal deficit in the first minute of the third period, though the visiting Magicians were the last team to find the back of the net.
After the rivals played 5 minutes of 3-on-3 overtime, Minnesota forward Bram Scheerer lifted the team to a 3-2 victory when he beat Fairbanks goaltender Josh Benson with the only goal scored during the shootout.
“I thought we started off a little slow,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “Guys were getting some chances as the game went along but we’re not a very gifted goal-scoring team, as was evident in our shootout attempts.
“We’ve got to have a plan to score goals, and to do that we need to go to some of the conflict areas.”
Each team used three players during the shootout; however, it was Scheerer — the Magicians’ final shooter — who lit the lamp with a wrist shot below Benson’s blocker.
The Ice Dogs sent forward Erkka Vanska out for their final shootout attempt, though the Espoo, Finland, native’s wrist shot was stopped by Minnesota goaltender Isaiah Saville to secure a win for the Magicians.
Although Fairbanks (7-2-0-2) created a handful of scoring chances during the opening period, it was Minnesota (5-3-1-1) which garnered an early 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of action.
Charlie Weiand put the visitors on the board with a lightning-fast wrist shot from the top of the slot, as he handled a pass from Jarrett Lee before firing a blast past Benson’s blocker to give the team a 1-0 lead 11:44 into the game.
As clean as Weiand’s goal was — he received Lee’s pass in stride seconds after entering Fairbanks’ defensive zone — the Magicians’ second goal of the night didn’t require nearly as much skill.
Arturas Laukaitis was credited with the score, as he launched a pass into the Ice Dogs’ goalmouth from behind the net. His pass deflected off a Fairbanks defenseman’s skates and through Benson’s legs, giving the visitors a 2-0 edge at the 17:21 mark.
“Credit to them for putting a puck into that area,” Stewart said, referencing the front of the net. “Usually when you do that and put bodies there, something good is going to happen eventually.”
Minnesota head coach Scott Meyer said building an early lead gave his squad confidence to do well in front of the raucous Big Dipper crowd.
“It’s a great place for our guys to come play,” said Meyer, who was an NCAA All-
American goaltender for St. Cloud State in Minnesota before playing professionally for the New York Rangers organization.
“They don’t have this type of environment down where we’re at, so it was a lot of fun,” he continued. “We have a lot of young guys, so to get a fast start was helpful. It gave us an opportunity to get some points, which is what any team wants to do when they come up here.”
The Ice Dogs made the most of their first power play — which was caused by a hustle play by Fairbanks native Ty Proffitt — with a goal 5:44 into the second period.
Forward Caleb Hite, who played for the Magicians last year before joining the Ice Dogs this season, beat Saville with a low backhand after being fed the puck by Daniel Haider.
“That was a great play by Wendt and Haider to get the puck to me,” Hite said. “It was fun to score against my old team in this environment. It felt good, but I’d rather have the win than just the goal.”
After taking a 2-1 deficit into the second intermission, Fairbanks defenseman Nolan Schaeffer netted the equalizer 59 seconds into the third period.
Schaeffer bested Saville with a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff dot, as his blast snuck below the crossbar to tie the game at 2.
Vanska and Robert Blueger recorded assists on Schaeffer’s goal, which was the defenseman’s first of the season.
“I saw their forwards in the zone watching (Tanner) Schachle and he made a good play through a guys’ skates,” Schaeffer said. “I held onto it and waited for the goalie to react and shot it far side.”
Kyle Mayhew and Schachle were the first two Fairbanks players to have attempts during the shootout, while Minnesota sent Cameron Buhl and Matthew Stanton out before Scheerer’s game-winner.
Even in defeat, the Ice Dogs players credited the home crowd for turning the Big Dipper into an electric atmosphere. Schaeffer said the team will look to rebound when it hosts Minnesota at 7 p.m. today at the Dipper.
“It’s good to have the crowd behind us,” he said. “That gave us a lot of energy and played to our favor. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a win for them tomorrow.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.