CHIPPEWA FALLS, WI- The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in the Lower-48 for the final time this regular season, preparing for games against the Chippewa Steel, Minnesota Magicians and Springfield Jr. Blues. Although idle last weekend, the Dogs secured a spot in post season play and lead the Midwest Division with 69 points through 45 games this season.
The Dogs took a 12-game winning streak into their bye week, which at the time was tops in the league. However, the Lone Star Brahmas extended their win streak to 14 games with a 3-game sweep over the weekend to leapfrog the Dogs as the hottest team in the league. Lone Star and Amarillo, both of the NAHL South Division, are the only other two teams in the NA to punch their tickets to post season play.
This weekend’s action will be split between Chippewa Falls and Richfield, Minnesota, as the Dogs play the Steel on Friday night and the Magicians on Saturday. The Steel currently holds third place in the NA Midwest, four points back of the Kenai River Brown Bears (56 points) and 17 back of the Ice Dogs. The Steel is 7-3 in the past 10 games and has eight games in hand on the Brown Bears, but just five on the Ice Dogs.
“We have the opportunity to put more distance between us and Chippewa,” said Ice Dogs Head Coach Trevor Stewart of Friday’s head to head matchup with the Steel. “Though it may appear that we have an insurmountable lead at this point in the season, it can vanish quickly if we don’t stay sharp, focused and ready to go game in and game out.”
Matt Koethe leads Fairbanks with 44 points (16 goals , 28 assists) on the season. Oliver Kjaer is just a point back, but leads the team with 1.23 points per game on the season. Jack Johnston is third on the Ice Dogs scoring list with 41 points, while Adam Eisele and Luke Ciolli round out the top five Ice Dog scorers.
Ironman Mattias Sholl leads the NAHL with 25 wins this season, while he ranks second in the league, registering 2168 minutes in net heading into the weekend. Sholl’s .921 save percentage ranks ninth in the league, and his 2.1 goals against average ranks eighth.
Looking at special teams, the Ice Dogs rank fourth in the NA, scoring on 26.1 percent of their power play opportunities. Kjaer leads the team, scoring 10 of the Ice Dogs 33 power play goals this season. The Ice Dogs’ penalty kill also ranks in the top-10 in the league, as they shut down opposing team power plays at a 84.8 percent clip.
Ice Dogs blue liner Lucas Erickson was named the North American Hockey League Bauer Defenseman of the Month last week. Erickson recorded 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in eight games during the month of January, which also included a +12 rating. Erickson, who is committed to play NCAA Division 1 hockey for St. Lawrence University, had five multi-point games during the month and was named the Midwest Division Star of the Week on Jan. 27. This after returning from an extended absence on Jan. 10 due to an injury.
“I think the team has really been dialed in for a couple of months now, so the mindset coming back from my injury was to continue that momentum,” Erickson said in a league press release. “I didn’t rush myself back from injury because the guys were really playing well while I was gone, so it would good that I didn’t feel pressure and I could just get healthy and play at 100 percent.
Erickson added that there is plenty on the line for he and his teammates in his final season of junior hockey.
“I think there definitely is a feeling of unfinished business stemming from last year and the veteran players here like myself are focused on bringing the Robertson Cup back to Fairbanks,” Erickson said.
Following this weekend, the Dogs travel to Illinois to face the NA Midwest cellar-dwelling Jr. Blues for a 3-game set Feb. 21-23. However, eight players and coach Stewart will take a brief detour to Attleboro, Mass for the league’s Top Prospects Tournament Feb. 17-18. The eight Ice Dogs will be split among the below rosters.
Upon returning to Alaska, the Dogs will enjoy a post-road trip bye week before entering the home stretch of the regular season, beginning with a March 6-7 series against the NE Generals at the Dip. That weekend coincides with Hockey Week in Fairbanks put on by the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame.