FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs mosty kept their play simple Saturday night against the Northeast Generals in the finale of a three-game North American Hockey League series at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The Ice Dogs emphasized good transition, good forechecking and getting shots and bodies to the net. The simplicity led to a 5-2 win for a sweep of the weekend and season series.
“We’ve had trouble scoring recently, so we wanted everything to be hard to the net,’’ Ice Dogs assistant coach Scott Dour said. “We did that this weekend with everything going to the net — swarms of players coming in and getting their chances.”
The sweep-clinching win, aided by multi-point efforts from Connor Chilton, Hampus Eriksson and Nick Rogers and 21 saves from goaltender Josh Benson, also moved Fairbanks within a point of the fourth-place Coulee Region Chill in the Midwest Division standings.
The Ice Dogs are 14-20-2-1 for 31 points in the standings, and the Chill are 15-17-2-0 for 32 points. Coulee Region lost 9-3 Saturday night to the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The Chill and Jr. Blues play again today.
The top four teams in each of the four divisions of the Tier II junior A league advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs in April. Last season, the Ice Dogs captured their third Robertson Cup in the program’s 20-year history.
Being on their home ice for most of their remaining games of the regular season may benefit the Ice Dogs.
“We’re finally back at home after a long road trip, and the guys are excited to be back and playing in front of these fans,’’ Dour said while alluding to the Ice Dogs’ 11-game road trip in December and January against East Division teams, including the expansion Generals.
“We’ve got the next 19 of 23 games, and if we continue that (success), we have a good chance to make the playoffs,’’ Dour said.
Fairbanks’ success Saturday started with a three-goal answer to the game’s first goal by Northeast’s Colin Bilek at 1:45 into the opening period, helped by Justin Jallen and Kohei Sato.
Erkka Vanska, aided by Chilton and Rogers, knotted the score at 4:44 of the first period. Luke Orysiuk, helped by Daniel Haider and Chilton, delivered the game-winner with a shot amid traffic in front of Generals goalie David Fessenden (12 saves) at 7:49. Rogers closed the surge at 14:21 with assists from Dean Hewines and Chilton.
“It’s hard work,” Chilton said. “It was just getting pucks deep with nice passes.”
After a scoreless second period, Erikkson stretched Fairbanks’ lead to 4-1 with helpers from Marc Sullivan and Rogers at 4:25 of the third.
Evan Somoza, who played for the Ice Dogs last season, surprised Benson with a shot that rang the left corner of the crossbar and dropped in at 9:15 during a power play.
Grayson Gavin, who had the game-winner in Friday’s 1-0 victory, planted a
power-play goal for the Ice Dogs at 12:41. Eriksson and Samuel Ruffin aided Gavin’s ninth of the season that also secured a 6-0-0-0 finish for the Ice Dogs against the Generals (1-33-3-0 for five points).
The Ice Dogs swept a three-game series against the Generals on Dec. 15-17 in the New England Sports Village in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
Gabe Vinal, who started in the net for Northeast in Thursday’s game, won 4-1 by Fairbanks, had 24 saves in relief Saturday night.
Fairbanks next plays the Aston (New Jersey) Rebels on Friday and Saturday at the Big Dipper. Each game starts at 7:30 p.m.
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