Ice Dogs rally for shootout victory over Jets

FAIRBANKS—Fairbanks Ice Dogs left wing Liam Stirtzinger didn’t change anything when it was his turn during  the shootout against the Janesville Jets in Saturday night’s North American Hockey League game in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

 The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Moorpark, California, lifted the Ice Dogs to a 2-1 victory for a sweep of the Midwest Division series against the visitors from Janesville, Wisconsin.

The shootout was even at 1 after conversions by Ice Dogs center Todd Burgess and Jets forward Shane Seller.

Stirtzinger, the fifth and final participant in the shootout, skated to the left edge of the crease, where he paused his skates. He quickly resumed his motion and fired a wrist shot through the pads of Jets goaltender Jack LaFontaine.

“I’ve been doing that move for a few years now, so I kind of knew what I was going to do going into it,” Stirtzinger, who played with the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas, of the NAHL’s South Division, before coming to the Ice Dogs. 

 “I don’t try to change much,’’ he added. It’s worked for me the past couple of years, so I’m comfortable with it.”

The Ice Dogs were coming off a 7-2 win on Friday night, but they expected a tougher effort on Saturday night from the Jets. The Ice Dogs came into the finale with a 2-4-1 record in the season series.

“It was tight, it was a tight hockey game the whole night,’’ Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “We battled through a no-goal in the second period and guys kind of rebounded and gathered themselves quite quickly after that so that was a good thing to see.

“We got a little luck in the shootout and we found a way to get two points (in the standings),” Stewart said.

The Ice Dogs improved to 37-7-3 for 77 points, maintaining first place in the Midwest and the best record in the 22-team Tier II Junior A league. The Jets, with one point from the shootout loss, moved to 24-14-5 for 53 points and a third-place tie with the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues, who visit the Big Dipper at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

An apparent goal by the Ice Dogs right wing Reggie Lutz during the middle period Saturday was waived off by referee Steven Rouillard. Stewart said that Rouillard told him he didn’t see the puck cross the goal line.

Jets head coach Joe Dibble also was expecting a different game from his team than what he saw in the series opener.

“In life — and not just in hockey —, you have to respond,’’ Dibble said. “That’s the one message we talked about.

“You have a decision — you can lay an egg like last night or you can come out and respond,’’ Dibble said. “Everything we did today was the result of our responding.

“That’s a damn good hockey team,’’ Dibble said of the Ice Dogs. “Coach (Trevor) Stewart does an unbelievable job and it’s the hardest atmosphere to play in, not just in our league  but in the country.”

An announced attendance of 2,242 saw the teams trade power play goals late in the first period.

Jets defenseman Alex Smith, with his second goal of the weekend, scored from the top of the right circle at 17:26 off of assists by Adrian Hoelsinsky and Taylor Fernandez.

Clay Cross tied the score at the left side of the crease at 19:20, taking a backdoor pass from defenseman Jakob Stridsberg. Burgess, with his league-leading 77th point, had the other assists.

Ice Dogs goaltender Gavin Nieto finished with 19 saves and during the shootout, he denied attempts by Adam Winborg, Holesinsky, Fernandez and Smith.

LaFontaine ended the game with 26 saves and his shootout denials consisted of Cayden Cahill, Tyler Tomberlin and Lutz.

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: