FAIRBANKS — Special teams proved to be the difference in Friday night’s North American Hockey League showdown as the New Jersey Titans downed the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in front of a capacity crowd at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
The Titans scored a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal in the second period to break a 1-1 tie and went on to claim a 4-2 victory and remain unbeaten in the first three games of a four-game Alaska road trip.
“Our penalty kill unit was great tonight,” said New Jersey coach Craig Doremus, after the Titans killed all six penalties Friday night. “Our ability to block shots all the way through the lineup really paid off tonight.”
A disappointed Ice Dogs coach Trevor Stewart said, “Any time you give up a power-play goal and shorthander, it’s not a good thing.”
Stewart questioned his players work ethic for the second straight Friday in the Big Dipper.
“For the second straight Friday, we didn’t bring the work ethic it takes to win,” Stewart said. “We weren’t getting into the right spots and we weren’t eager to make the plays.”
The Ice Dogs fell 5-1 to the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks in Fairbanks’ home-opening game Sept. 30.
Stewart said the Ice Dogs knew the battle they would be facing against the Titans going into Friday night’s contest.
“We knew New Jersey was going to be pretty consistent for 60 minutes,” Stewart said. “We weren’t able to match that and we didn’t create the energy we needed.”
The loss dropped the defending Robertson Cup champion Ice Dogs to 5-3-1-1 on the season heading into tonight’s 7:30 rematch with the Titans, who improved to 6-2-1-0. Both teams are in third place in their respective divisions, the Midwest and the East.
“It was a good effort tonight and I was proud of my team,” Doremus said. “Our compete level was good for the most part and that allowed us to generate some offense.”
With the score tied 1-1, the Titans took the lead for good when Anthony Cusanelli supplied a power-play goal at 7:41 of the second period off assists from Nick Bayagian and Kyle Perkowski.
Nine minutes later, Jordan Kaplan scored what proved to be the game-winner when he beat Ice Dogs goalie Joshua Sarlo on a perfectly executed 2-on-1 break with assists going to Tyler Antonucci and Maxim Andreev.
“That was very rewarding,” Doremus said of the shorthanded goal.
Fairbanks cut the deficit to 3-2 at 11:41 of the third period, when Ryan Kero managed to bang the puck past Titans goalie Brandon Bussi. It took the officials several minutes before finally ruling the goal would stand. Assists went to Erkka Vanska and Aaron McPheters.
The Titans defense tightened up after that and New Jersey sealed the win when Dylan Healey tapped the puck into an empty net with four seconds left in the game.
Titans goaltender Bussi turned in a stellar effort, stopping 27 shots on the night, including a breakaway with 3:33 left in the game.
“That’s two very solid starts in a row for Brandon,” Doremus said.
Sarlo made 17 saves for the Ice Dogs.
New Jersey got on the scoreboard first after Victor Ostling found the back of the net off assists from Matt Wiesner and Gordie Helmuth at 14:10 of the opening period.
The Ice Dogs tied the score 26 seconds later when Connor Chilton lit the lamp with assists from Colton Fletcher and Samuel Buffin.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7586.