FAIRBANKS — On Friday the Fairbanks Ice Dogs were forced to do something they haven’t had the luxury of doing much this season: secure a lead.
After Hampus Eriksson gave the Ice Dogs a one-goal lead late in the second period, Fairbanks faced the task of closing out the game against North American Hockey League Midwest Division Rival Kenai River.
The Ice Dogs did just that, as they held off the Brown Bears to earn a 2-1 victory at Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
“The guys went into the third period and I could actually see a little bit of nerves,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said in a phone interivew.
“We haven’t played with a lot of leads in the third period — especially a one-goal lead — much this season,” Stewart continued. “The guys did a good job keeping (Kenai River) to the outside for the most part.”
The Ice Dogs, who improved to 17-22-2-1 on the season, held Kenai River (10-29-2-0) to seven shots on goal in the final frame.
Fairbanks’ goaltender Josh Benson was perfect in the third period, as he secured the victory after making 21 saves.
“Josh has been good in net,” Stewart said. “He did make one mistake tonight that led to their goal, but that was a bit of a miscommunication.”
The Brown Bears capitalized on the Ice Dogs’ confusion when defenseman Alex Dingeldien scored an unassisted goal to give Kenai River a 1-0 advantage 4:28 into the contest.
Although the Ice Dogs were held scoreless in the opening period, they did find the back of the net against the Brown Bears’ goaltender Colt Hanks (27 saves) in the middle frame.
Cayden Cahill netted the equalizer on a penalty shot 15:49 into the second period before Eriksson gave the Ice Dogs a 2-1 lead when he tallied his eighth goal of the season with just 14 seconds remaining in the period.
“That was obviously a big goal,” Stewart said of Eriksson’s game-winner. “We had the penalty shot with Cahill, and then that was big to score that one right before the period ended.”
Defensively, Fairbanks’ penalty kill held the Brown Bears scoreless on each of their seven power plays.
Kenai River went on the man-advantage three times in the third period, but the Ice Dogs were too determined to let their lead slip away.
For Fairbanks to maintain its spot in the NAHL playoffs — it holds a slight edge over the Coulee Region Chill for fourth place in the Midwest Division standings — Stewart said his team must close out games like it did Friday night.
“We talked about that after the game,” the coach said. “If we want to do anything with this season, we have to be good in those situations. It was definitely a teaching point after the game.”
The Ice Dogs and Brown Bears will close out their three-game series tonight at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: