by: Bob Eley for Fairbanks Daily News Miner
FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs couldn’t have picked a more exciting way to open the 2016-17 North American Hockey League season Thursday night.
The Ice Dogs began defense of the Robertson Cup national championship in dramatic fashion as Daniel Haider scored the game-winning goal with six seconds left on the clock to give Fairbanks a 3-2 victory over the Topeka Roadrunners at the Kansas ExpoCentre in Topeka.
Haider’s game-winner came when the Ice Dogs sustained pressure after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone.
“He came around the net on the left side to the circle and placed a nice shot that made it through some screens in front and found its way into the net,” said Trevor Stewart, who is beginning his sixth season at the helm of the Ice Dogs.
Hunter Wendt and Jay Keranen picked up assists on Haider’s game-winner.
Haider also had an assist on Wendt’s goal at 12:26 of the third period that gave the Ice Dogs a 2-1 lead. Cayden Cahill also recorded an assist on the play.
The Ice Dogs jumped ahead 1-0 in the first period when Dean Hewines scored the first goal of the season on a power play off an assist from Luke Orysiuk.
Stewart wasn’t exactly thrilled with his team’s overall performance Thursday night.
“We were not a sharp hockey club tonight, but we made enough plays to find a way to win,” Stewart said in a telephone interview.
“I expect Topeka to play much better tomorrow night, so we’re going to have to be much better in order to get the same result as we had tonight,” Stewart added.
One Ice Dog who was sharp Thursday night was goaltender CJ Boothe, who stopped 26 of the 28 shots that came his way.
“Boothe played well tonight,” Stewart said. “We had a couple of self-inflicted defensive mistakes and he made some excellent saves when we needed him back there.”
The Ice Dogs had 22 shorts on goal.
After each of the Ice Dogs’ first two goals, Topeka responded quickly to tie the score.
Topeka’s Sascha Figi scored at 15:32 of the first period off assists from Andrew Hart and Jack Nickels to make it 1-1.
After a scoreless second period, the Ice Dogs took a 2-1 lead on Wendt’s goal at 12:36 of the third, but Topeka’s Hart tied at 2-2 to set the stage for Haider’s game-winner.
“We got a win and that’s about it,” Stewart said.
Stewart said his team needs to get better in all facets of the game at this point in the season.
“In the defensive zone we need to stick to our assignments and be quicker to the puck,’ he said “Offensively we need to support the puck quicker to create more time of possession.”
The Ice Dogs and Roadrunners meet again at 4:30 p.m. (ADT) today and Saturday. The Ice Dogs continue their season-opening road trip at the NAHL Showcase Sept. 21-24 at Blaine, Minn.
Fairbanks plays its first home game against the Johnstown Tomahawks at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Contact the News-Miner Sports department at 459-7581.