CLOQUET, MINN- The Fairbanks Ice Dogs exorcised demons of last spring’s postseason by serving up a 2-game series sweep of the Minnesota Wilderness in the Northwoods Credit Union Arena over the weekend. Fairbanks dominated the season opener, winning 6-2 on Friday, before claiming a 3-2 win in an much more tightly contested game on Saturday.
It took just 48 seconds of the 2022-23 NAHL regular season for the Dogs to find the back of the net. Tyler Pfister fired a low show from the right point that McCabe Dvorak redirected past Isak Posch to put the Dogs up 1-0. Cameron Ricotta scored to give the Dogs a 2-goal cushion after the first 20 minutes of play. The scoring continued for the visitors, as Gavin Waltz and Marc Lund each tallied second period markers. Justin Biraben and Kevin Marx Noran closed out the scoring with goals in the third period to seal the 6-2 victory.
The Dogs found themselves trailing early Saturday night, as Cole Gordon put the home team up 1-0, scoring a goal just a minute and 22 seconds into the game. However, Ice Dog newcomers Julian Recine and Caden Pendo combined to put the Dogs back on top in the first frame. Jacob Conrad corralled a loose puck in the zone and fed Recine who sniped a wrist shot that beat Konrad Kausch high glove to even the game at one. Later in the period, Brady Welsch dealt a backhanded pass into the slot, where a streaking Caden Pendo one-timed the puck into the cage to give the Dogs a 2-1 lead. Pendo jumped in the play by design, something the rookie worked on in training camp.
“Coach (Dave Allison) was really pushing me to get up in the play and create opportunities as a fourth wave,” Pendo said.
The second period remained scoreless for 19 minutes and 36 seconds before Joe Cesario delivered the equalizer on a Wilderness power play to knot the game at two. Minnesota held the Dogs in check, allowing just five shots in the second.
The Dogs found themselves on the power play early in the third period. Welsch delivered the eventual game winner, bearing down on the rebound of a shot from Pendo to send the puck into a mostly empty net. That goal stood up, as net minder Kayden Hargraves and the Ice Dogs defense shut the door on a 3-2 Ice Dog win for the series sweep.
Hargraves was outstanding all series, stopping 66 of the 70 shots he faced over the weekend.
The Ice Dogs remain in the state of Minnesota, traveling to Blaine to participate in the NAHL’s annual Showcase Tournament. They face Aberdeen, New Mexico, Bismarck and Odessa in the 4-day tournament that showcases each NAHL team. The Showcase is heavily scouted, giving players a chance to display their skills to college and professional scouts. However, it will also give players on the roster bubble a chance to impress the coaching staff ahead of the Oct. 2 roster cutdown from 28 to 24 players.
“It’s going to be a grind, and all players are going to have a chance to play and show us that they belong on this team,” said Ice Dogs Head Coach Dave Stewart. “To quote Springsteen- the door’s open but the ride ain’t free.”
The Ice Dogs remain on the road through the month of September with road series at Wisconsin and Springfield following the Showcase. The home opener comes Oct. 7 against Anchorage.