FAIRBANKS – The Fairbanks Ice Dogs\’ bid to win the Robertson Cup came up one game short.
The Ice Dogs ran into a hot goaltender on Sunday evening in Wenatchee, Wash., and couldn\’t muster a goal in suffering a 3-0 loss to the Bismarck Bobcats in the championship game of the North American Hockey League\’s championship tournament that determines the Junior A Tier II national champion.
\”We had some great chances, but we just couldn\’t generate a goal tonight,\” Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said in a telephone interview Sunday evening. \”They (Bismarck) did a good job of keeping us on the outside, but we did generate six or seven really good chances and just couldn\’t put it away.\”
Hauge said the Ice Dogs put everything they had into their fifth game in five days in an effort to bring the Robertson Cup to Fairbanks for the first time in team history.
\”I\’m extremely proud of these guys for the job they did in representing Fairbanks in the tournament,\” Hauge said.
\”If you would have told anyone two weeks ago that we would have been playing in the championship game, they would have laughed, but these guys gave it everything they had to get here,\” the second-year Ice Dogs coach continued. \”We gave it everything we had but just came up a little short of reaching our goal.\”
The Ice Dogs picked the right time of year to play their best hockey.
\”They played so hard for this part of season when everything mattered the most,\” Hauge said. \”It was a great way to go out.\”
The Ice Dogs gave up one goal in each period in Sunday\’s championship game.
Each goal came in the final three minutes of the period.
Bismarck\’s second-period goal was a shorthanded attempt, and the Bobcats\’ final tally went into an empty net as the Ice Dogs pulled goalie Joe Phillippi for an extra attacker.
Bismarck got the only goal it needed at 17:10 of the first, when Casey Kiesinger blasted a shot past goalie Phillippi with an assist to Tyler Klein.
\”Their kid just made a great shot in a 2 on 2 situation,\” Hauge said.
The Bobcats took a commanding 2-0 lead at 17:50 of the second period when Jason Fabian poked a loose puck into an open net for a shorthanded score.
A Bobcats defenseman poked the puck away from Michael Juola at the blue line and the puck sailed down the ice into the Ice Dogs\’ defensive zone. Goaltender Joe Phillippi came out to play the puck, but his clearing pass hit a Bobcats\’ player and Fabian knocked the loose puck in the net before Phillippi could get back between the pipes.
Sean McKenzie completed the scoring with an unassisted, empty-net goal at 18:11 of the third.
Phillippi had 26 saves in the game, while Bismarck goalie Ryan Faragher made to 21 saves in recording the shutout.
The Ice Dogs went 0 for 3 on the power play and Bismarck was 0 for 2.
Phillippi and forward George Michalke were named to the all-tournament team.
It was a crazy season for the Ice Dogs, to say the least.
Fairbanks was slow getting out of the gate, but put together a lengthy winning streak to move into second place in the NAHL West Division in early January. The Ice Dogs slumbered through the rest of the regular season and finished third in the West behind the Wenatchee Wild and the Alaska Avalanche.
The Ice Dogs swept the Avalanche in the opening round of the playoffs, earning a trip to the Robertson Cup Tournament because Wenatchee was the host team.
However, Fairbanks got thumped by Wenatchee in three straight games in the Western Division finals and went into the Robertson Cup Tournament on shaky ground.
\”It was definitely the craziest season I\’ve been a part of any time in my life as a player or a coach,\” Hauge said. \”We played hard when our backs against the wall, but at other times we just went through the motions.\”
The Ice Dogs abruptly turned things around in the tournament, beating Wenatchee 2-1 in the first game of the round-robin portion of the tournament and knocking off defending national champion St. Louis 4-3.
The Ice Dogs suffered their first tournament loss, 2-1, against the Traverse City ////////, but came back to beat Bismarck 4-3 on Saturday to earn a sport in the Robertson Cup championship game.
\”It was nice to see the effort that was put forth this week,\” Hauge said. \”It was a great way to go out.\”
While the Ice Dogs overcame a two-goal deficit to beat Bismarck on Saturday, they couldn\’t do the same on Sunday.
Hauge doesn\’t get much time to reflect on the season. He will conduct a pair of tryout camps in the Lower 48 in the next two weeks in preparation for the NAHL draft.
\”It\’s a mad dash to find players for next year,\” he said. \”We\’ve go some big holes to fill, but then we\’ve got some great players coming back.\”