FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs were jumping in Jersey on Friday night.
The North American Hockey League’s defending Robertson Cup champions ended an 11-game winless streak with a 5-4 victory over the New Jersey Titans in the opener of a weekend series in Middletown, New Jersey.
Tanner Schachle scored two goals, including the game-winner with 43 seconds left in the contest in the Middletown Sports Complex. The Ice Dogs were 0-10-1 in their past 11 games before Friday’s contest.
“Everybody on the bench was excited,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said by cellphone. “We were up 4-0 and we had given up four goals in the last half of the game, and to be able to score that go-ahead goal felt pretty good.
“The guys battled hard and we had faced a lot of adversity,” Stewart continued. “It’s just one win and there’s room for improvement. We have a lot of points to make up in the standings if we want to get in the playoff picture. Now we’re just trying to build on this and hope to be better (today).”
The Ice Dogs and the Titans meet again at 3:30 p.m. AST today.
Ryan Kero and Samuel Ruffin, on the way to a three-point night, made the passes for the game-winner that gave Fairbanks its first points in the NAHL’s Midwest Division standings since Oct. 29, when it collected one point after a 3-2 overtime loss in a division game against the Coulee Region Chill in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
“Ruffin chipped it into the neutral zone and Kero made a great play and waited out the (Titans) defenseman,” Stewart said. “Schachle went to the far post and had a pretty wide open net.”
Two goals from Erkka Vanska, two assists from Connor Chilton and 32 saves from goaltender Josh Sarlo helped the Ice Dogs gain two points in the standings and improve their fifth-place record in the Midwest to 8-14-2-1
for 19 points.
The Titans, in second place in the East Division at 19-9-1-0 for 39 points, got two goals from Nick Boyagian, two assists from Ryan Wheeler, 19 saves from Brandon Perrone and 11 saves from Brandon Bussi.
The Ice Dogs held leads of 2-0 in the first period and 4-3 in the third before the Titans’ Gordie Helmuth evened the score at 17:27 of the third with an assist from Oskar Stromberg.
Ruffin provided the series’ first goal at 27 seconds into the contest with an assist from Luke Orysiuk. Vanska produced his first of the night at 4:33 with helpers from Chilton and Austin Ghiradelli, a Californian who was playing his first game for the Ice Dogs.
A power-play goal by Schachle, with help from Grayson Gavin and Ruffin, put Fairbanks up 3-0 in the second period Friday and Vanska added his second goal 29 seconds later with assists from Nick Rogers and Chilton.
The Titans cut the lead to 4-2 with goals from Boyagian at 9:41 and 18:39 of the middle period. Danny Eruzione and Wheeler assisted on Boyagian’s first goal and Todd Goehring aided the second one.
Wheeler and Tyler Antonucci set up a power-play goal by Greg Malafonte that closed the Ice Dogs’ lead to one at 1:54 into the third period.
Ghiradelli was skating Friday as an affiliate player for the Ice Dogs.
Stewart said that the NAHL allows teams to name 10 players at the high school or midget hockey level whom a team puts on a list and can use for a couple of games throughout the season. Ghiradelli plays for the Los Angeles Junior Kings’ midget program.
• The top four teams in each of the NAHL’s four divisions qualify for the playoffs, with the first and second-place teams in each division playing host to first-round series.
The Ice Dogs are nine points behind the fourth-place Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues in the Midwest standings.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.