By Brad Joyal, BJOYAL@NEWSMINER.COM
FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs created chances. Plenty of them.
After overcoming a two-goal deficit to beat the Shreveport Mudbugs in Friday’s series opener at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Ice Dogs found themselves in a similar position when the two North American Hockey League foes met Saturday for the series finale.
But unlike Friday, when the team rebounded from its slow start by scoring four consecutive goals, Fairbanks wasn’t able to replicate another magical comeback before falling 2-1.
Tanner Schachle found the back of the net for the Ice Dogs, but that was the only time the team lit the lamp during Saturday’s irritating loss at the Big Dipper.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “It seems to be our song and dance — we get a lot of chances but we haven’t proven to be a gifted goal-scoring team. Hopefully that’s going to come, but the guys have to want it and hold each other accountable.”
With the loss, the Ice Dogs fall to 8-4-0-2 on the season. The visiting Mudbugs, who compete in the South Division, improved to 11-4-0-1.
Kieran Durgan opened the scoring when he beat Fairbanks goaltender Logan Neaton, who was making his first start at the Dipper, on a breakaway 6:56 into the contest.
Gueorgui Feduoloy extended Shreveport’s lead to 2-0 with his first goal of the season at the 7:33 mark of the second period. He deflected a shot off the stick of Durgan, who launched his initial offering from the top of the slot.
Schachle finally put the Ice Dogs on the scoreboard 10:19 into the third period, as he buried a rebound past Mudbugs netminder Gustavs Grigals after Erkaa Vanska attacked the visitors’ goalmouth with a head full of steam.
“It felt good but it was too little, too late,” Schachle said. “We were all over them in the last 30 or 35 minutes, but it’s a broken record — we need to have better starts. We’re confident that we can find out what’s going on and fix it.”
Fairbanks, which outshot Shreveport 28-17, created plenty of scoring chances to tie the game, particularly late in the third period.
In fact, Ice Dogs defenseman Nolan Schaeffer launched a slap shot from a couple strides inside the Mudbugs’ blue line during the final seconds.
Schaeffer got all of his shot, which could’ve tied the game as the buzzer sounded. However, Grigals stopped it for his 27th — and final — save of the night.
Frustration was rampant among the Fairbanks players after the game, as they felt they put themselves in position to beat Grigals throughout the contest.
“It’s really annoying,” veteran forward Hunter Wendt said. “As a group of forward, we have a lot of veterans and we have a lot of guys who were here last year. We’ve got to figure it out and find the back of the net.”
Even though Neaton (15 saves) surrendered two goals, Stewart said he was pleased with his goaltender’s performance during his first start on home ice.
“He did a great job. He covered the lower part of the net well,” Stewart said. “Especially some stuff he didn’t see, he was able to fend it off understanding where the shooter was probably trying to put the puck. He did a good job for his first start in the Big Dipper.”
Up next for Fairbanks is a visit to Soldotna to face Midwest rival Kenai River in the opening series of the Ravn Alaska Cup series. The Ice Dogs and Brown Bears will play a three-game series beginning Thursday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
After two slow starts against the Mudbugs, Schachle said the Ice Dogs need to address their first-period performances before meeting their rival next weekend.
“We have to turn on our brains right away,” he said. “It should be an easy fix. We’re feeling pretty positive going into Kenai River next weekend.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.