FAIRBANKS—The Fairbanks Ice Dogs gave up the game-tying goal to the Kenai River Brown Bears with less than 10 seconds left in the first period of a North American Hockey League playoff opener on Friday night in the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Head coach Josh Hauge told his players during the first intermission to be calm and be true to themselves for the remainder of the first game of the West Division first-round series. They heeded his advice and rattled off three goals in the second period on the way to a 5-1 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
“I just (said) calm down because we put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the fact that we didn’t play our best hockey in the last seven (games) after we clinched the division,” said Hauge, whose squad improved to 41-15-3. “I just said go be the team we are … a team that plays uptempo, fast and is big and physical and plays hard.”
The Ice Dogs, guided Friday by 30 saves from goaltender Joe Phillippi, a goal and an assist from Tayler Munson and two assists apiece from Alexander Jensen and Jared Linnell, became that team in the second period.
Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said he thought the middle period was the difference in the opener of the series, which resumes with Game 2 at 7:30 tonight.
Kenai River (27-25-7) played penalty free in the first period and knotted the score at 1 with 9.8 seconds left on the scoreboard clock.
Kenai River linemates Brett Lubanski and Brad Duwe got behind the Fairbanks defense on a 2-on-0 following an Ice Dogs turnover. Lubanski dropped the puck back in the low slot to Duwe to put a quick wrist shot over Phillippi’s glove hand.
“Letting up a goal late in the first period isn’t something we want to do,” said Phillippi, “but we just came back and regrouped in the lockerroom and we came out flying in the second period.”
David, along with 1,999 fans, saw the Ice Dogs sprout wings during a 4-minute, 44-second span in the second period.
“I thought there was a five to eight-minute span in the second period where we lost the game,” David said. “The rest of the game I thought we were equal and very competitive at times. So, hats off to them that they were able to capitalize in that short period.”
John Stampohar triggered the capitalization with the game-winner at 8:17 of the second, as the tall Ice Dogs forward took Brandon Carlson’s assist and skated along the goal line to the right side of the crease to sneak the puck by Mathias Dahlstrom’s glove side.
“When it comes to the playoffs, you’ve got to get pucks to the net,” Stampohar said. “They’re not going to be pretty or tic-tac-toe plays; you’ve just got to shoot pucks on the net, crash the net and good things are going to happen.”
The good things for the Ice Dogs began with them moving the puck around against a Brown Bears defense that often packed the low slot.
“We had to move it down low, move it behind the net,” said Munson, “and if they collapse, we go up high and that opens things up.”
Alec Hajdukovich, with helpers from Munson and Linnell, lined a wrist shot from the slot over Dahlstrom’s glove-side shoulder at 12:38 of the second. JT Osborn, assisted by Alexander Jensen and Gabe Levin, capped the burst at 14:01 by skating to the right side of the crease and slipping in a backhand.
Munson added a backhand goal at 6:09 into the third, aided by Hajdukovich and Linnell. The goal also chased Dahlstrom for Josh Benton after a 17-save night for the Brown Bears starter. Benton stopped all nine shots he faced.
Ice Dogs defenseman Preston Hodge provided the game’s first goal and his first of the season with 1:13 left in the first period. With helpers from Charlie Thauwald and Zach Vierling, Hodge scorched a shot from the right point that cleared a crowded slot and rang in off of the left post.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.