FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs had their moments during Friday night’s North American Hockey League series opener against the visiting and Midwest Division-leading Janesville Jets.
The Ice Dogs also had there winless streak grow to seven games.
Fairbanks lost 5-2 in the Big Dipper Ice Arena after a promising first period which it battled to a 2-2 tie after starting with a 1-0 lead, followed by a 2-1 setback.
Defenseman Cullen McCabe and center Ryan Kero accounted for the offensive burst by the fourth-place Ice Dogs during the first 20 minutes of the Midwest Division series.
“The first half of the game we were fine, we were there and maybe even controlled most of the play,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said.
“We dealt with some adversity in the second period and going into the third period,” he continued, “and that’s not something that we’ve been able to handle throughout of the course season very well, and it was evident in the game tonight.”
Goaltenders Conor O’Brien, in his first game for the Ice Dogs after coming over from the South Division’s Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas, and recorded 17 saves and CJ Boothe made one save for Fairbanks, which slipped to fifth place in the Midwest at 7-10-2-1 for 17 points.
Fairbanks is 0-6-1 in its last seven games heading into the series finale against the Jets at 7:30 p.m. today in the Big Dipper.
“We got a lot of ups and downs for our team,” McCabe said. “We just need to find a way to stay consistent like we do in the beginning of games, and just keep that fire going even after we get scored on a couple of times.”
Peter Bates scored twice and Jacob Barczewski made 32 saves for Janesville, which increased its first-place mark to 15-4-0-1 for 31 points in the standings.
Jets head coach Joe Dibble, before the series opener, had warned his team about the Ice Dogs, even likening them to a storied NHL team.
“We were using a phrase all week that we felt it was going to be like coming out here and playing the Detroit Red Wings with the (winless) streak that they’ve been on,” Dibble said.
“They’re a good hockey team and we didn’t want to be a situation where they had all the momentum the whole game,” he added. “We knew that first period was going to be tough and we knew that we had to make some adjustments after that and weather the storm for the first 20 minutes.
“Honestly, I don’t think we did that very much. In the second, we got lucky on a couple of goals,” Dibble said. “It was relax, play simple hockey, get pucks deep and throw everything at the net.”
The Ice Dogs evened the score at 2 with a power-play goal at 14:22 of the first period. Kero took a pass from defenseman Luke Orysiuk and walked up to the left circle and drilled a shot past Barczewski. Samuel Ruffin also assisted on Kero’s third goal of the season.
McCabe had provided the first goal of the series and his first as an Ice Dog by taking right wing Cayden Cahill’s faceoff draw and firing the puck in at 3:10 of the opening stanza.
“The center told me where to be and I just kind staggered a little bit more to the middle than usual,” said McCabe, “and the puck just kind of bounced out to me and I put it on the net.”
Bates, with help from Alec Semandel and three-assist forward Chris Dodero, tapped a rebound past a prone O’Brien at 7:51 for the 1-1 tie. Kid Hoffman put the Jets up 2-1 at 11:34 with a pass from Cullen Munson, who tied up the stick of transitioning Ice Dogs defenseman Marc Sullivan to gain the puck.
The Ice Dogs had at least five quality chances in the low slot against Barczewski during the second period, but couldn’t convert their opportunities.
The Jets broke the tie with Bates’ second of the night at 9:26, courtesy of assists by Keegan Miller and Semandel, and Michael Maloney added insurance with 1 second left in a two-man advantage for Janesville. Maloney’s 13th goal of the season was set up by Dodero and Adrian Holesinsky.
Boothe only saw two shots after coming in the third period, and one of the shots was a power-play rip from the top of the slot by Cole Paskus at 15:51 of the third. Maloney and Dodero had the helpers on Janesville’s second power-play marker in four chances.
The Ice Dogs finished 1 for 7 with the man-advantage.
Fairbanks is 0-3-0-0 against Janesville this season. The Ice Dogs suffered respective losses of 3-2 and 6-2 on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Janesville ice Arena in Janesville, Wisconsin.
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.