FAIRBANKS – The Fairbanks Ice Dogs didn\’t let a game-tying goal by the Alaska Avalanche in the final minute of regulation rattle them Friday night in Wasilla.
The Ice Dogs responded with a power-play goal from Matt Millis 43 seconds into overtime to grab a 2-1 victory in the opener of a North American Hockey League West Division first-round series.
\”Any time you can take control and get home ice back, we\’re excited about it,\” Fairbanks head coach Josh Hauge said by phone.
Because the Avalanche finished the regular season in second place ahead of the Ice Dogs, they earned home ice for the first two meetings of the five-game series.
But after tonight\’s rematch at the Curtis Menard Memorial Arena, the Ice Dogs could clinch the series with wins on April 9 and 10 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
A fifth game, if necessary, would be April 11 in Wasilla.
\”It\’s huge. That was our goal, getting Friday night,\” Hauge said. \”Now we\’re playing with house money. We really want to come out and get Saturday, too.\”
Behind 29 saves from goalie Joe Phillippi and scores by Aaron McGill and Millis, Fairbanks improved to 10-4-1 against the Avalanche this season.
Friday\’s win didn\’t come easily. McGill, on an assist by Mark Pustin, broke a scoreless tie with 3:41 left in the second period. The goal stood until the Avalanche pulled their goalie in the final minute of the third.
With 41 seconds to go, Zack Smith took a shot from a sharp angle that hit the post.
Phillippi thought the puck was underneath him and accidentally knocked it in the net when he attempted to secure it, Hauge said.
\”We were obviously a little disappointed. We thought we had (the game),\” Hauge said, adding that the team was fortunate to have an intermission at the end of regulation to refocus.
The Ice Dogs entered that intermission knowing they\’d start overtime on a power play because Alaska\’s Blake Huppert was whistled for a hooking infraction with just 8 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Ice Dogs capitalized at 43 seconds when Josh Nelson shot a puck off the end wall and Millis knocked his sixth goal of the season home during a scramble near the net, Hauge said. Kyle Politz and captain Jared Larson – who was cleared to play only Thursday after suffering a concussion last weekend against Wenatchee – were credited with assists on the game-winner.
Of the 1,533 fans in attendance, between 100-150 traveled down the Parks Highway from Fairbanks.
\”We really appreciate all the people who made the trip,\” Hauge said.
In game 2 tonight, forward Justin Kirchhevel will probably not play after injuring an ankle on Friday, while Phillippi will likely get the nod again in net, Hauge said.
Five players – Fairbanks\’ McGill, Michael Juola and Sean O\’Rourke along with Alaska\’s Jake Parenteau and Kyle Pichler – were ejected for fighting at 12:52 of the third period but will be eligible to play tonight. The Avalanche ended that skirmish with a five-minute power play (they were 0 for 6 Friday with the man advantage) but a hooking call evened the sides again about three minutes later.