FAIRBANKS — There was no way the Fairbanks Ice Dogs weren’t coming away with a victory.
Even after Minnesota established an early lead minutes into the first period, the Ice Dogs still managed to make one thing perfectly clear: the Magicians didn’t have a chance.
Fairbanks rebounded from its slow start to score four goals — two of which came on the power play — to skate to a commanding three-goal advantage at the end of the opening frame.
The Ice Dogs never took their foot off the gas as they cruised to a 7-2 victory over Minnesota to complete a 3-0 series sweep in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division semifinals Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“We found the back of the net and immediately responded to what they had early,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “That was big for us to pad a lead like that going into the second period. It gave us a little bit of breathing room.”
With the win, the second-seeded Ice Dogs advance to the Midwest Division finals, where they’ll face No. 1 Janesville in a best-of-five series.
The Jets, who swept the Coulee Region Chill in the other Midwest semifinal, will host Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday in Janesville, Wisconsin, next weekend.
After Jarrett Lee gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead when he beat Fairbanks goaltender Erik Gordon 4:54 into the contest, the Ice Dogs wasted little time before answering in a big way.
Benton Maass scored a power-play goal to tie it 1-1 on the team’s first man advantage 7:32 into the opening frame. Then, 2:10 later, Bauer Neudecker lit the lamp on another Fairbanks power play.
Hampus Eriksson, who tallied an assist on both power play goals during the first period, found the back of the net on another man advantage during the middle frame.
“There are a lot of talented guys out there,” Maass said of the power play unit. “We practice it a lot and we were able to make plays tonight. That’s all there is to it, finding the open guy and putting the puck in the net.”
In addition to the success on the power play, the Ice Dogs also received some strong individual performances.
Forward Cayden Cahill recorded a hat trick and added an assist, while Luke Orysiuk also tickled the twine for Fairbanks.
Eriksson and Robert Blueger both had three assists, Maass added two of his own, while Daniel Haider and Neudecker each finished with an assist in the win.
Gordon was stellar in net, finishing with 29 saves in the win. He was especially strong in the first period, when he made 17 stops to combat Minnesota’s aggressive early offense.
“He did an excellent job,” Stewart said of Gordon. “He’s done that for us all season long. We’re definitely proud of his effort and the performance he had.”
Caleb Hite scored the Magicians’ second goal 15:40 into the third period.
Minnesota used two goaltenders — Ivan Prosvetov (10 saves) and Jake Acton (18 saves) in the loss.
Although Fairbanks captured the NAHL Robertson Cup national championship a year ago, only five returning players were a part of that squad.
The team’s inexperience showed when it hit the road to begin the season in Richfield, Minnesota, though, now the Ice Dogs feel like they are finding their stride at the right time.
“We’re playing really good hockey right now and I think that showed throughout the series,” Maass said. “We just played our game. We knew we would have to do that to get a series win, and we were able to get it done in three games, which was awesome.”
But don’t expect the Ice Dogs to overlook Janesville.
“We’re going to celebrate this win for about 30 minutes and then we’ll turn the page to next weekend,” Cahill said. “We want to show (Janesville) what we can bring.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @bradjoyal.