FAIRBANKS — Nolan Schaeffer didn’t know how much time was left. All he knew was he had to rip a shot on net.
The Fairbanks defenseman has showcased his strength with slap shots all season, though Saturday’s game-winner will likely be the blast he’ll never forget.
Schaeffer, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound blueliner from Marshall, Minnesota, lifted the Ice Dogs to a 3-2 victory over the Janesville Jets when he buried a slap shot from the blue line with 3.6 seconds remaining.
His last-second heroics helped Fairbanks even the best-of-five NAHL Midwest Division Finals at 1 after the Jets skated to a 6-4 win in Game 1 on Friday night at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
“I honestly don’t remember much of it,” Schaeffer said. “I saw the puck go into the corner with 10 seconds left. I got the pass and didn’t know how much time was left, so I just shot it as hard as I could.”
Daniel Haider played the puck out of the corner to defenseman Noah Wilson. Seconds later, Wilson sent it over to Schaeffer ,and the D-man let it fly.
It seemed like the rivals were all but guaranteed to head to overtime tied 2-2. But Schaeffer’s shot snuck below the cross bar and past Janesville goaltender Garrett Nieto’s glove, popping the netminder’s water bottle off the top of the net.
The scene sent the Big Dipper into a frenzy.
“We put ourselves in a position to win and one of our guys made a play at the end,” Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart said. “It was kind of a walk-off home run there.”
The Ice Dogs and Jets will meet in Game 3 at 5 p.m. today at the Dipper.
Schaeffer and his teammates said they didn’t want Game 2 to end in overtime, and they figure they’ll start tonight’s meeting with momentum after winning in such dramatic fashion.
“We really didn’t want to go to overtime,” Sam Ruffin said.
“To (score) and avoid overtime was huge,” Schaeffer added. “I think we’ll feed off that. We had a good start in the first period and I expect the same tomorrow.”
Fairbanks was dominant during Saturday’s opening frame. The team peppered Nieto throughout the first 20 minutes — the Ice Dogs held a 13-1 advantage in shots on goal — but Janesville’s goaltender stood tall.
The Jets struck first at the 11:53 mark of the middle period when Jakov Novak rifled a backhanded shot into the top corner of the net.
Although Fairbanks trailed, the team continued to test Nieto (28 saves) until Robert Blueger put them on the board 15:13 into the frame.
Blueger, a forward from Riga, Latvia, was uncovered in the slot when he netted the equalizer with a wrist shot on an Ice Dogs power play.
Fairbanks took a 2-1 lead into the third period after Ruffin scored his third of the playoffs with 48 seconds left in the middle period.
Ruffin camped out in front of Janesville’s net and wasted no time after receiving a pass from Kyle Mayhew.
“We just thought if we could keep putting the puck on their goalie, eventually they’d have to go in,” Ruffin said. “We kept it simple and threw pucks on net.”
Janesville forward Sam Renlund tied it at 2 when he beat Fairbanks goaltender Logan Neaton (19 saves) at the 7:44 mark of the third.
It was Renlund’s fifth goal of the postseason.
Even though they were disappointed to see their lead vanish, the Ice Dogs didn’t expect the Jets to back down.
“We knew this team was going to be really good,” Stewart said. “We played one-goal games with them the whole season with the exception of maybe two.”
John Stampohar, Erkka Vanska and Hunter Wendt also tallied assists for Fairbanks, while Carter Ekberg and Alec Semandel recorded helpers in defeat.
After the Ice Dogs suffered a tough loss Friday night, it was clear the Big Dipper crowd gave them an edge in Game 2.
Tonight is the final time the team will play in front of the Fairbanks faithful this season, as Games 4 and 5 will be played in Janesville next weekend.
The Ice Dogs players said they’re ready to take the home ice one last time.
“It’s bittersweet for allus 20-year-olds,” Schaeffer said. “Playing here is like something you can’t even imagine. The fans stand behind us through thick and thin. They’re unbelievable.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.