Fairbanks erased a two-goal deficit with three unanswered goals against North American Hockey League Midwest Division rival Springfield during the third period Friday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Even the Ice Dogs’ surge — which came in just 2:09 — wasn’t enough to upend the visiting Jr. Blues.
Springfield rallied to score three more goals and hand Fairbanks a 5-3 loss in the first meeting of a two-game series.
“We’ve been playing hard, but, at the end of the day, I think we cheat and give teams opportunities to sustain pressure,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said.
“We forget about being on the right side of the puck, and it finally caught up to us.”
It was Fairbanks’ first home loss since its 3-2 overtime loss Dec. 2 to the Kenai River Brown Bears. The last time the team dropped a home game in regulation was Nov. 10, when the Bismarck Bobcats earned a 5-1 victory at the Big Dipper.
The Ice Dogs, which sits atop the Midwest Division standings, fell to 39-6-3-3 on the season. The Jr. Blues improved to 25-20-5-1.
Although Fairbanks overcame a two-goal deficit when Luke Orysiuk, Noah Wilson and Kyle Mayhew scored three straight goals in 2:09 during the third period, Springfield’s first-year head coach Tyler Rennette used a timeout to help his team relax.
The decision paid off, as Brandon Puricelli tied the game at 3 at the 11:29 mark. Then, 13:07 into the final frame, Patrick Smyth beat Ice Dogs goaltender Josh Benson for his second goal of the night to give the visitors a 4-3 edge.
Puricelli scored into an empty net to put the game out of reach with 1:17 remaining in the contest.
“I just called our guys in and told them we had to relax a little bit and get back to our game,” Rennette said.
“If we let that sink us any more, we were going to be in trouble. I liked the way our guys responded.”
Orysiuk started the Ice Dogs rally when he put a blast past Springfield netminder Jurja Ovecka at the 6:10 mark of the third period.
Wilson tied it at 2 just 24 seconds later, before Mayhew scored from the blue line to give Fairbanks its first lead of the night.
The Big Dipper crowd went into a frenzy when the Ice Dogs erased the deficit, though the energy in the building quickly vanished after Puricelli evened the score.
“It was tough to see,” Mayhew said. “Having so much momentum and then having it crushed when they score two back-to-back goals like that. It was tough.”
After the Ice Dogs held a 9-5 advantage in shots on goal in the opening period, the Jr. Blues dominated play during the middle frame.
Marcus Walter beat Benson (22 saves) to open the scoring 10:20 into the second period, and Smyth gave Springfield even more momentum when he scored with only 19 seconds left before the second intermission.
“We knew this is a hard atmosphere to play in and the crowd is rowdy,” Smyth said. “The crowd is one battle and the team is the other. We knew that if we could get the crowd of it, we could take on the other task at hand. I think we did that by scoring the first goal.”
Mayhew, Samuel Ruffin, Nolan Schaeffer, Daniel Haider, Connor Chilton and Caleb Hite tallied assists for the Ice Dogs.
Luke Mobley, a forward from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, made his debut for Fairbanks. Although the newcomer didn’t record a point in his first game with the team, Stewart said he liked what he saw from Mobley.
“He’s going to be a nice project to work with,” Stewart said.
The Ice Dogs honored Fairbanks native Shawn Masterson, who passed away Tuesday after a car collision on the Parks Highway, with a moment of silence and a violin rendition of “Amazing Grace” before the game.
Fairbanks and Springfield close out the series at 7:30 p.m. today at the Big Dipper.