FAIRBANKS — All season long, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs have been trying to climb the North American Hockey League Midwest Division standings.
Although the defending Robertson Cup champions have spent some time near the bottom of the division standings, the team’s play has been on the rise in recent weeks.
The Ice Dogs’ success continued Thursday night, as they upended Midwest rival Kenai River, 1-0, after Robert Blueger scored with 1:35 remaining in the third period.
With the win, Fairbanks climbed into fourth place in the division standings with a 16-22-2-1 record. Coulee Region previously occupied the fourth spot — which is the cutoff for teams to qualify for the postseason — with a 16-19-2-0 record, however, the Chill were not in action Thursday night.
Kenai River, meanwhile, fell to 10-28-2-0 on the season.
“It was nice to get this win,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said in a phone interview.
“It seemed like there was a lot of cat-and-mouse throughout the game,” he continued. “There were a lot of scoring chances but both goalies were really good. To get that goal with under two minutes left, it’s a great feeling.”
Prior to Blueger’s score, which came off assists by Hampus Eriksson and Marc Sullivan, Fairbanks found itself killing a penalty.
Nolan Schaeffer was sent to the box to serve a two-minute interference infraction 15:21 into the final frame. When he came out of the box, the Ice Dogs were ready to make their move.
The result was a shutout victory for goaltender Josh Benson, who stopped each of the 13 shots he faced. Robbie Goor (18 saves) played the first two period for the Brown Bears, but it was Colt Hanks (seven saves) who was
bested by Blueger.
Thursday’s victory marks the Ice Dogs’ fifth win in sixth tries.
In addition to Benson’s strong play between the pipes, Stewart said his team has benefited from players getting healthy and buying in during the recent stretch.
“There are different little things that add up,” he said. “The guys seem to be a little more team-oriented and they’re understanding they can accomplish something if they play together.”
The Ice Dogs were held scoreless on four power plays, while the Brown Bears failed to score on their only man-advantage of the night.
Fairbanks will remain in Kenai River and play the Brown Bears today and Saturday. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.
Although there are still plenty of games to be played, the Ice Dogs are finally finding their stride.
“There’s obviously still a lot of work to do, but things are going our way a little bit more in the win column,” Stewart said. “We know we’re going to be playing a tough, angry Kenai River team tomorrow night so we have to be prepared.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: