Ice Dogs thump Topeka in series opener

Mar 26, 2017

FAIRBANKS — Pass, shoot, score.

Although it may sound like a simple concept, anybody who has ever laced ’em up and hit the ice can tell you it’s easier said than done.

Unless you’re the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, that is.

The defending Robertson Cup national champions showcased the art of tape-to-tape passes and burying scoring chances when it hosted North American Hockey League counterpart Topeka on Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

The end result? Another lopsided victory for the Ice Dogs, who manhandled the visiting RoadRunners, 9-2, in the opener of this weekend’s two-game series.

With the win, Fairbanks improved to 29-24-2-1 for 61 points on the season. The team has won five straight and 15 of its last 18 dating back to Jan. 19.

Topeka, meanwhile, fell to 18-31-4-1 on the year.

“Hats off to our guys,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said. “They made some plays and found the back of the net. That is something we struggled to do early in the season.”

It seemed as though every Ice Dog got into the act Friday, as 12 players found their way onto the scoresheet with either a goal or assist.

Leading the way was forward Hunter Wendt, who lit the lamp twice and assisted on three others.

Defenseman Marc Sullivan recorded two goals and an assist, while Cayden Cahill, Bauer Neudecker, Hampus Eriksson, Graysin Gavin and Benton Maass each tickled the twine for the Ice Dogs.

Cahill finished with four assists, while Daniel Haider and Robert Blueger added two apiece. Dean Hewines, Christian Sanda, Connor Chilton, Gavin and Eriksson each tallied a helper in the win.

Fairbanks managed to bury scoring chances against both Topeka goaltenders — starter Ryan Snowden and Ben Churchfield, who entered in relief during the second period — but it was the team’s unselfish passes which led to its 38 shots on goal.

“I think for the most part guys stayed away from one-one-one situations and created two-on-one situations for ourselves,” Stewart said of his club’s puck movement. “Anytime you do that, it certainly helps.”

Although Fairbanks took a modest 2-1 advantage into the first intermission, it exploded for four goals in the middle frame and three more in the third.

The Ice Dogs’ power-play unit was perfect, scoring on each of its three man-advantages.

“We’ve really been clicking as a unit,” Wendt said of the power play. “It’s just been really working for us.”

“It’s huge, because it’s something we struggled with early in the season,” Stewart added.

After Sullivan ignited the scoring 10:10 into the contest, Topeka’s Nick Granowicz netted the equalizer to make it 1-1 with 7:24 remaining in the opening frame.

However, the RoadRunners then surrendered eight consecutive goals, and they didn’t beat Gordon again until John Wojciechowski put one home 14:23 into the third period.

As well as the Ice Dogs have been playing lately — they steamrolled the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights 7-0 and 6-0 last weekend — the team still feels work needs to be done.

Fairbanks is in the middle of the playoff hunt, as it fights the Minnesota Magicians for second place in the Midwest Division.

The Magicians earned one point when they suffered a 3-2 shootout loss to the Springfield Jr. Blues on Friday, though they still hold a three-point advantage in the standings.

With four games remaining, the Ice Dogs are hoping to make up ground to capture second place, which would give them home ice during the best-of-five opening round of the NAHL playoffs.

“We’re not guaranteed anything. We’re not in the playoffs yet,” Stewart said. “We have to have that mentality every single night and act like the next game is the most important game of the year. Tomorrow is no exception.”

 “We’re trying to go all the way,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking at each day like it’s another stepping stone to get to where we want to be. Our goal is another Robbie Cup, so we’ll see how it goes.”

The Ice Dogs will look to continue their hot streak when they close out the season series against Topeka at 7:30 p.m. today at the Big Dipper.

Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @bradjoyal.