Janesville blanks Ice Dogs, builds 2-0 series lead

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in desperate need of some home cooking.

After suffering its first North American Hockey League playoff loss to top-seeded Janesville in Game 1 of the Midwest Division finals Friday, Fairbanks was shut out by the Jets 5-0 on Saturday in Janesville, Wisconsin.

With the loss, the Ice Dogs, who won the 2016 NAHL Robertson Cup national championship, fell behind 0-2 in the best-of-five series, which will resume with Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

If Fairbanks is able to earn a win Friday to avoid elimination, Game 4 will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Big Dipper. Game 5, if necessary, also would be played at the Big Dipper at 5:30 p.m. May 6.

“We actually started out a little bit better (Saturday),” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said in a phone interview. “We were getting the puck to the net and created some chances, but they came back and made a play. They scored a goal and we weren’t really able to recover.”

Although Fairbanks fell behind and came back to win each game of its Midwest Division semifinals series with the Minnesota Magicians, the team never held a lead against Janesville this weekend.

The Jets, who won all four games against the Ice Dogs during the regular season, took a 1-0 series lead when they earned a 4-1 victory in Game 1 on Friday.

Fairbanks fell behind 4-0 in the series opener before Nolan Schaeffer put the team on the scoreboard late in the contest. During Game 2, the team failed to answer after Kip Hoffmann gave Janesville a 1-0 lead 12:54 into the first period.

“We weren’t really able to recover,” Stewart said of the Jets’ first goal. “It seemed like our confidence got down a little bit. We were just chasing them a little bit after that. I know everybody is excited to get back to the Big Dipper and to turn the series a little bit, but it was pretty disappointing here.”

Hoffman capped off Saturday’s win with a shorthanded empty-net goal 17:50 into the third period, though the Jets peppered the Ice Dogs’ net with shots throughout the night.

Cole Paskus gave the team a 2-0 lead 18:20 into the opening period, while Cullen Munson and Keegan Miller each netted goals in the middle frame.

Fairbanks starting goaltender Erik Gordon (15 saves) was pulled from the game after allowing Janesville’s fourth goal midway through the second period. His replacement, Josh Benson, stopped each of the 11 shots he faced in 27 minutes, 23 seconds of action.

The Ice Dogs tested Jacob Barczweski with 23 shots on goal, but the Jets’ netminder was perfect in the shutout.

Saturday marked the sixth time Fairbanks was held scoreless in a game this season.

Stewart said his team will need to enhance its intensity and confidence the rest of the series.

“When we’ve gotten behind, it seems like our confidence seems to drop a little bit,” he said. “Playing against a good team, they’re going to make you pay if you can’t make plays. We need to play with energy throughout.”

The winner of the series will advance to the NAHL Robertson Cup national championship in Duluth, Minnesota.

For the Ice Dogs to rebound from their two-game deficit, Stewart said his team will need to find the swagger it had against the Magicians.

He’s hoping it’ll arrive when the team takes the ice Friday for Game 3.

“We didn’t have that kind of moxie we need on this stage,” Stewart said. “Hopefully going back to the Dipper will help us out in that regard.”

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