FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs’ finish didn’t equal their start in Saturday night’s finale of their hockey exhibition series against the U.S. National Team Development Program 17U squad.
The Ice Dogs jumped out a 2-0 lead in the first period at the Big Dipper Ice Arena and the USNTDP 17U — also known as Team USA 17U — chipped away for a 5-3 win and a sweep of the series.
The series, which started with Friday night’s 4-1 setback, didn’t count in the North American Hockey League standings for Fairbanks. The combined outcome for the weekend — particularly Saturday — was disappointing to the Ice Dogs.
“It’s just very, very difficult and frustrating,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said after the game.
“You put yourself in a position to win a hockey game,” he continued, “and the game’s on the line, and we don’t have any guys that want to kind of grab the bull by the horns right now. It’s frustrating.”
The Ice Dogs were hoping for better results against the Plymouth, Michigan-based Team USA 17, because before the series, the defending Robertson Cup national champions were on an 11-game winless streak (0-10-1-0) and fifth place in the NAHL’s six-team Midwest Division with a 7-14-2-1 record.
“We’re definitely pissed off about it,” Ice Dogs forward Hunter Wendt said of Saturday’s contest and the weekend for Fairbanks.
“There’s some positives that came out of this weekend and our goal tending was good,” Wendt continued, “but we’ve got to do a lot better if we want to be in the Robertson Cup championship.”
One of the positives was Saturday’s debut of goaltender Josh Benson, who came over from the NAHL3’s North Iowa Bulls.
“He was the leading goalie in that league and we brought him up here to play, and I thought he did really well,” Stewart said. “He’ll be continuing with out East.”
The Ice Dogs return to NAHL play against the New Jersey Titans at 3:30 p.m. AST Friday and Saturday in Middletown, New Jersey.
The Ice Dogs’ return to the Dipper on Saturday night began with them scoring more in goals in the first period than they did for all of Friday’s game.
Tanner Schachle, with assists from Samuel Ruffin and Cullen McCabe, skated through the slot and surprised Team USA goaltender Ryan Ullan with a shot at 2:01.
Wendt was opportunistic at 9:53, getting the puck amid a scramble in front of Ullan and popping it in from the left edge of the crease.
“It just came to my stick and I kind of got lucky, and I banged it in,” Wendt said.
Erik Middendorf made it 2-1 for Team USA with a low wrist shot from the left circle at 7:20 of the first.
Team USA revved its offense with three goals in the first nine minutes of the third period.
Joel Farabee scored with a power-play shot from the high slot at 7:33, aided by Oliver Wahlstrom and Jake Wise.
After Jack Deboer’s go-ahead goal, Farabee made it 4-2 at 9:00 of the third after tapping in a floating puck at the left side of the crease. Farabee’s second of the night occurred during a short-handed situation, as Benson had denied Middendorf on a backhand rush and the rebound dribbled along the goal line.
Kero brought the Ice Dogs within one, putting in a rebound of Marc Sullivan’s shot from near the left point at 13:42 on an extra-attacker play.
Benson was pulled again for an extra skater with about 2 minutes left, and Wise scored into the empty net about 18 seconds later with a shot from the neutral zone.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.