FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs couldn’t have asked for much more on opening night of the hockey season in Fairbanks.
The Big Dipper was at its capacity. The atmosphere was electric. The Ice Dogs didn’t disappoint anyone as they rolled to a 6-1 North American Hockey League victory Friday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“The crowd and the atmosphere set the tempo for the night,” a beaming Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said. “A lot of the guys can’t stop talking about how great it was to play in that kind of atmosphere.”
The Ice Dogs were sky-high during pregame introductions that included all the hoopla of a normal first-game celebration in addition to the unveiling of a banner saluting their runner-up finish in the 2010 Robertson Cup Tournament.
The line to purchase tickets stretched well into the Big Dipper parking lot when the opening faceoff took place, and it was just 34 seconds later when the first huge roar went up from the 2,250-plus fans who were already inside the rink as Tyler Voigt slammed the first goal of the game into the back of the net off assists from JT Osborn and Brock Carlston.
“There was a lot of energy in the building tonight,” Hauge said. “The guys came out fired up and to get one right away was huge for us.”
Before the first period was finished, the Ice Dogs had a 4-0 lead and the fans were in a rollicking good mood.
“They were really unbelievable tonight,” Hauge said. “They really carried us through the game.”
Despite the excitement of opening night, the Ice Dogs weren’t overwhelmed.
Gabe Levin, who was named the first star of the game, Charlie Thauwald and Tayler Munson added first-period goals for the Ice Dogs, giving each of coach Hauge’s four lines one goal in the first 20 minutes.
“All four lines chipped in today,” Hauge said. “It’s huge for us to get production like that.
“It makes things a lot easier for the coach when you can roll all four lines and count on good things to happen.”
Sean O’Rourke and Jared Linnell added second period goals for the Ice Dogs, while Willie Hess tallied for the Monsters.
After the Ice Dogs built the advantage to 5-1 and the pace seemed to slow a bit, the Fairbanks got the crowd back into the swing of things with a series of skirmishes that got the standing room crowd roaring.
Hess broke up Joe Phillippi’s bid for a shutout when he beat the Ice Dogs goalie midway through the second period. Phillippi stopped 28 shots on the night to improve to 4-1-2 on the season.
Fresno starter Louis Puig stopped 15 shots in the first period, before being replaced by Jake Williams, who stopped 22 shots in the final two periods.
The Ice Dogs (8-1-2) and Monsters (4-4-1) play again at 7:30 tonight at the Dipper.
“We’re going to have to be better than we were tonight,” Hauge said. “We came out strong, but then we got away from the things we do well and started taking shortcuts.
I wasn’t disappointed with the way we played in the second and third tonight, but I wasn’t pleased, either,” He added. “I’m sure Fresno will be a lot more motivated.”
In their previous two series in Alaska against the Alaska Avalanche and Kenai River Brown Bears, Fresno lost the first game, but bounced back to win the next night.
Contact sports editor Bob Eley at 459-7581.