Fairbanks, Alaska- The Fairbanks Ice Dogs (2-5-0-1) have not played a home game in the Big Dipper Ice Arena since April 29. Their opponent in that tilt? The Janesville Jets, the same team the Dogs face in Friday’s 2018-2019 season home opener. The puck drops at center ice of the ‘Dip at 7:30 both Friday and Saturday night.
The Ice Dogs’ coaching staff has been emphasizing in practice all week that playing at home doesn’t guarantee success. Head coach Trevor Stewart described it as a sense of urgency on the coaching staff.
“We need to be cognizant that our guys aren’t trying to be too comfortable coming home and thinking that things are going to be easier, because they most certainly aren’t,” Stewart said. “Teams like playing here just as much as we do, so we have to make sure that we’re making the most of this opportunity and time to get better over the course of this week.”
The Ice Dogs are coming off a road split with the Minnesota Magicians. Ice Dogs forward Jonny Sorenson netted the game winner in Friday’s 3-0 shutout, and tabbed assists on both goals in Saturday’s 3-2 loss. Sorenson was named Bauer Midwest Divisional Star of the Week on Monday.
“It was pretty cool to be recognized,” Sorenson said. “Obviously the weekend didn’t go as we wanted, but I guess there’s some little positives that came out of it, and gives us something to build off of.”
Sorenson is tied for second on the team with four points on the season. He admits the transition from high school to junior hockey has been an adjustment, but says the game is beginning to slow down for him.
“I think I’m molding better to junior hockey, adjusting to the speed a little bit, and just developing more skills in practice that will help me,” Sorenson said.
“He’s learning the little nuances of what we expect as a staff, how much time and space he’s going to have in certain situations,” Stewart said of Sorenson. “He just continues to improve every day and it’s fun to watch him play.”
Alaska native Tanner Edwards turned some heads Friday night, netting a breakaway goal to close out the scoring. He was rewarded with the top play in the NAHL’s Plays of the Week on Tuesday. Check it out below:
Ice Dogs General Manager Rob Proffitt has been hard at work prepping for this weekend’s home opener. All 23 players will be introduced amid a new light show by Alaska Universal Productions. The Odom Company Coors Light 4-wheeler, from the Polaris Outpost, giveaway will get underway with qualifying during intermissions. Fans are invited the tail gate before both Friday and Saturday night’s games.
“Moose season is over, the leaves are on the ground and the Dogs are back in town,” Proffitt said. “Don’t miss the 22nd Ice Dogs home opener at the ‘Dip.”
Both games are expected to sell out, which should create quite the environment for a pair of hockey games. Sorenson estimates the largest crowd he’s played in front of before to be around 1500 people. He’ll be playing in front of 2000-plus on Friday, and says returning vets tell him playing at the Big Dipper is an experience like none other.
“They said it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced… even the guys that played at state in Minnesota,” Sorenson said. “People here have more passion, they’re into it more and they want to see us succeed. I heard it’s amazing, so I can’t wait.”
Still, it’s important to not get caught up in the hoopla of home opening weekend.
“We can’t play to the crowd or to the atmosphere,” Stewart said. “We just have to execute the things that we’ve worked on throughout the course of the season so far.”
“Settle in and just remember why I’m here, which is to play hockey and work hard.” Sorenson said of his first shift Friday night.
Tickets for home opening weekend are available at Play it Again Sports, Gene’s Chrysler, Fairbanks Community Museum, Ft. Wainwright ASYMCA, Eielson Community Center, the Ice Dogs office, and as always online at fairbanksicedogs.com.