FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks Ice Dogs earned a spot in the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup finals on Thursday night by posting a dramatic come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory against the Wenatchee Wild in Wenatchee, Wash.
Trailing 4-2 in the third period, the Ice Dogs rallied for two goals, including JT Osborn’s game-tying score with 40 seconds remaining, then won on a goal by North Pole’s Jared Linnell at 18:13 of overtime to punch their ticket to Topeka, Kan.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge said. “It was just pure heart, soul and guts in the overtime period.”
Even though the Ice Dogs have been to the Robertson Cup finals on several occasions in the past, this is the first time they’ve earned their way into the national championship tournament.
“It’s the biggest win I’ve ever had as a coach,” Hauge said. “To have a local kid score the game-winning goal for the first time that we’ve actually earned a trip to the Robertson Cup is just awesome.”
In each of the Ice Dogs other national tournament appearances, they have either gotten in as the host team or as the second-place team when the division champion was the host team. That was the case last year for Fairbanks.
The Ice Dogs were the second-place team in the West Division and Wenatchee was the division titlist when Wenatchee hosted the 2010 Robertson Cup. The Ice Dogs finished as tournament runner-up.
Hauge was grateful Thursday for the support of Ice Dogs fans in Fairbanks.
“I want to thank our fans back home for everything they’ve done for me,” an excited Hauge said. “We would have liked to have won it in Fairbanks on Sunday, but this win is for everyone back in Fairbanks.”
Linnell’s game-winning goal was set up by Pete Spratte and Tayler Munson. It silenced a pro-Wenatchee crowd of 3,197 fans.
“It was the best sound of silence I’ve ever heard,” Hauge said. “It just went absolutely beautiful. It was just silent in the rink.”
And the Ice Dogs celebrated.
“There were sticks and gloves and helmets everywhere and the boys were making some noise,” Hauge said. “It was just amazing.”
Trailing 3-1 going into the third period, the Ice Dogs cut the deficit to 3-2 at the 5:04 mark when Alex Jensen lit the red lamp off assists from Jack Callahan and Brock Carlston.
Wenatchee scored three minutes later and it looked like the two-goal lead would stand until Gabe Levin knocked the puck home off assists from John Stampohar and Jensen to make it 4-3 at the 6:03 left on the clock.
As time wound down, Hauge finally pulled goalie Joe Phillipe in favor of an extra attacker and the move paid when Osborn scored off an assist from Zach Vierling to tie the score at 4 to set the stage for Linnell’s dramatic game-winner.
The Ice Dogs got off to a fast start when Alec Hajdukovich scored 44 seconds into the game off an assist from Munson.
Wenatchee tied the score midway through the first period when Chris Rumble scored on a shot from the red line.
The Wild added two more goals early in the second to take control of the game.
“We got up early, then Joe let one in from the red line and they kind of took it us in the second,” Hauge said. “Then it was just pure determination on everyone’s part for us to tie it in the third and win it in overtime. Unbelievable!”
The Ice Dogs will return to Fairbanks to begin preparations for the national tournament.
“We’ll come home and take a few days off, then begin our preparations,” Hauge said. “Tonight, we’ll celebrate in Wenatchee.”
Topeka gets a spot in the tournament as the host team. The RoadRunners lead Amarillo 2-1 in the best-of-five South Division series after a 3-2 overtime win Thursday night. If Topeka wins the series, the other two division champions will round out the Robertson Cup field.
If Amarillo comes back to win the series, there will be a three-game playoff between the two teams with the lowest regular-season records to determine the fourth team in the national tournament.
The Coulee Region/Bismarck series is tied 1-1, as is the St. Louis/Michigan series.
The Robertson Cup is May 2-8 in Topeka, Kan.