FAIRBANKS — Friday night’s 4-2 home loss against the Springfield Jr. Blues had a familiar tone for Fairbanks Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart in this North American Hockey League season.
“Once again, we found a way to lose a hockey game when we were in position to win a hockey game, being up 1-0 early,” Stewart said outside of the Ice Dogs locker room after the opener of the weekend series between the fourth and fifth-place teams in the Midwest Division.
“They scored two quick goals in the second period and we kind of regained our composure a little bit, but we didn’t have anything to show for it until (Robert) Blueger knocked one home,’’ Stewart continued. “In the third period, we were in position to win and we didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”
Blueger, a center, and Samuel Ruffin scored for Fairbanks and goaltender CJ Boothe made 20 saves.
The loss stretched the Ice Dogs’ winless streak to four games (0-3-1) and kept them in fourth place in the Midwest at 7-8-2-1 for 17 points. However, the fifth-place Jr. Blues, at 7-11-0-1, are just two points back heading into today’s series finale at 7:30 p.m. in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“It (Friday’s game) could have gone either way,” Blueger said. “We’ve just got to work hard and stop taking penalties. I think penalties kill us, and we can’t be taking them, especially in the third period.
“Silly mistakes we make, those lead to our losses, and we could have easily won this game,’’ Blueger added.
The Ice Dogs had seven penalties for 35 minutes, including an unsportsmanlike conduct major and game misconduct for center Hampus Eriksson at 16:25 into the third period.
The Jr. Blues, of Springfield, Illinois, finished with five penalties for 10 minutes.
Last season, the Ice Dogs swept their series against the Jr. Blues with an 8-0-0 record.
Both teams are different this season, and Springfield head coach Tony Zasowski said last season’s drought against Fairbanks had no effect on the Jr. Blues preparation for this weekend’s visit to the Big Dipper.
“The way junior hockey is, every team’s got so much turnover, and we’ve only got two players back from last year’s team,’’ Zasowski said.
The Ice Dogs have six returners from last season’s Robertson Cup national championship squad.
“I think right now for us, we’ve got to focus on our team and come in and worry about playing a good game in a very hard building,’’ Zasowski said, alluding to the Dipper.
Ruffin registered his first goal as an Ice Dog and produced the series’ first score at 3:41 into the opening period. Ruffin collected a rebound of Ryan Kero’s shot and sent it under Jr. Blues goaltender Evan Fear.
Springfield shook off its offensive cobwebs in the second period and seized a 2-1 lead in a span of 23 seconds.
Braden Brown, on the way to a two-goal night, beat Boothe with a low shot from just inside the left circle at 4:11 and Zachary Tyson planted his first goal of the season at 4:34.
Blueger, with help from Marc Sullivan and Colton Fletcher, knotted the score at 2 at 12:31 into the second period after scooping a rebound of Sullivan’s shot that bounced off Fear’s chest and tapping it past the Jr. Blues goalie.
Brown delivered the game-winner with an unassisted power-play shot from the right circle at 12:05 of the third period.
“It was just in the moment,’’ Brown said.
Matt Long sealed with an empty-net goal with 1:53 left in the game.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.