FAIRBANKS — It may not have been as lopsided as the Fairbanks Ice Dogs would have liked it, but the end result was exactly what the team needed.
After two weeks away from the ice for Christmas break, the Ice Dogs began the second half of their season with a 2-1 victory over the Johnstown Tomahawks on Saturday in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Although the Ice Dogs (20-5-3-2) showed some signs of rust, Jack Johnston’s third-period goal powered the team past the Tomahawks, who fell to 12-12-3-1 on the season.
Fairbanks native Ty Proffitt gave the Ice Dogs an early advantage when he beat Johnstown goaltender Kade Phipps only 2:27 into the game.
It was the first North American Hockey League goal for the rookie forward. Hunter Wendt and Jake Willets tallied assists on the Ice Dogs’ first score.
After a scoreless middle frame, Johnston beat Phipps (24 saves) to give Fairbanks a 2-0 lead at the 6:12 mark of the third period. His scoring chance was created by Sam Ruffin, who tallied an assist on the play. Jax Murray also was credited with a helper.
“It was huge,” Stewart said. “Sam Ruffin had a great individual effort and made a nice play to Johnston in front of the net. That gave us a little life when we needed it.”
Fairbanks netminder Josh Benson stopped 19 of the 20 shots that came his way. Mitchell Hale put the Tomahawks on the board 7:59 into the final frame.
Even though the Ice Dogs left the Cambria County War Memorial Arena with a win, Stewart said they did look sluggish at times after being away from action for a couple weeks.
The teams will close out the two-game series at 2 p.m. AKST today. Stewart said the Ice Dogs will have to be sharper if they’re going to extend their winning streak to six.
“It’s a big game for them,” he said. “They always get a really big crowd on New Year’s Eve.”
Fairbanks won its last five games before departing for break. With Saturday’s victory, the team has won seven of its past eight games.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.