FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are taking a 2-0 lead this coming weekend to Soldotna, but they’re not carrying any overconfidence to the hometown of the Kenai River Brown Bears.
The Ice Dogs rolled to a 6-1 win Saturday in the Big Dipper Ice Arena in the second game of the North American Hockey League West Division first-round playoff series.
The 2,043 mostly-partisan fans saw six different Ice Dogs find the back of the net, goaltender Joe Phillippi turn away 24 shots and Jack Callahan, Alec Hajdukovich and Tyler Voight dispense two assists each to bring Fairbanks one win closer to wrapping up the best-of-five series.
Game 3 is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Soldotna Sports Center and a win sends the Ice Dogs (42-15-3) into the divisional final against the winner of the Wenatchee Wild-Alaska Avalanche series.
If the Brown Bears (27-26-7) avoid the sweep, Game 4 will be played in Soldotna at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Should Kenai River make the series 2-2, a fifth-and-deciding game will be played at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 12 in the Big Dipper.
Though the top-seeded Ice Dogs outscored the fourth-seeded Brown Bears 11-2 during the weekend in the Dipper, Fairbanks isn’t looking beyond Friday night’s contest on the Soldotna Sports Center’s Olympic-size ice (200×100).
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge said after Saturday’s win. “It’s just one win at a time until you get that third win.
“They’re still going to be kicking and your hardest win always is going to be to end someone’s season; so I expect them to be swinging and fighting pretty hard next weekend.”
Kenai River head coach Oliver David hopes his counterpart’s words ring true after Fairbanks won by four-goal margin Friday (5-1) and a five-goal difference Saturday.
“The guys like playing at home and we’ll see what kind of team we are with our backs against the wall,” he said.
“There are a lot of teams who are down 2-0 and in the same spot as us,” David alluded to other NAHL playoff teams. “This is that time of year where the good teams find a way and the teams that need to really find a way, need to do a lot of the little things well and get some luck.”
He saw the Ice Dogs find their way to a 2-0 lead for the first-round series, starting Saturday with a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Alexander Jensen scored on an extra attacker goal at 10:50 while skating across the front of the crease and defenseman Brock Carlston ripped a shot from the left point at 16:39 that hopped in the low slot and went over the shoulder of Brown Bears goaltender Josh Benton (25 saves).
“Fairbanks is really good, they are extremely skilled and poised with the puck,” David said. “They’re probably the best in our division at capitalizing on their opportunities.”
It’s a knack,” David added. “It takes a lot of hockey knowledge and some creativity to be able to make plays out of nothing and they do it all the time. Unfortunately, it’s them doing it; but I’m sure it’s fun for their coach to watch.”
The Ice Dogs fans got to watch Fairbanks stretch its lead to 3-0 at 30 seconds into the second period with
John Stampohar’s power-play backhand from the left edge of the crease
Kenai River denied the shutout at 7:23, as forward Jesse Ramsey uncorked a shot from the right point that deflected in off of an Ice Dogs skater in front of Phillippi. Preston Hodge, one night after scoring his first goal of the season, responded with goal No. 2 for a 4-1 lead for the Ice Dogs at 9:20. The defenseman rushed in to deposit a rebound of Voight’s attempt from the right circle.
“It’s playoff hockey, so the coaches are telling us to get every shot we can to the net and that’s what I’ve been trying to do,” Hodge said.
Tayler Munson padded Fairbanks’ lead to 5-1 with a rebound shot at 2:31 into the third period and Zach Vierling stretched the lead at 18:07 with a shot from in front of the crease during a two-man power play.
The Ice Dogs special teams also denied five power plays Saturday to give Fairbanks an 8-for-8 penalty kill for the first two games.
Fairbanks also got assists Saturday from Gabe Levin, Zach Vierling, JT Osborn and Charlie Thauwald.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.