FAIRBANKS—Like his Fairbanks Ice Dogs teammates, Zach Vierling didn’t have a lot of shots Tuesday night against the Topeka RoadRunners in the teams’ opener of the USA Hockey Robertson Cup National Tournament in Topeka, Kan.
Vierling had two shots in the Kansas Expocentre, and his second effort was one of the biggest of the season for the Ice Dogs. The forward from Coon Rapids, Minn., scored with 54 seconds left in overtime to give Fairbanks a 4-3 victory over the tournament host.
“Someone took a shot and he was there on the other side of the net to bang it home,” Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge described from Topeka.
The Ice Dogs, the runner-up at last year’s tournament in Wenatchee, Wash., survived getting outshot 50-24 Tuesday and allowing three unanswered goals after grabbing a 3-0 lead in the first two periods.
“We were terrible for the first 60 minutes,” Hauge said. “We were in quicksand and it seemed like we were watching a hockey game. We had a couple of individual efforts and outstanding goaltending by Joe Phillippi.”
“In overtime,” he said, “we played with desperation and we played much better.”
Overtime was also the only period which the Ice Dogs had an advantage in shots (8-5). There were outshot 12-5 in the first period, 17-6 in the second and 16-5 in the third.
Phillippi recorded 47 saves and backstopped a 4-for-4 penalty kill.
“He was just seeing the puck,” Hauge said. “He’s a competitor, he was unbelievable. Words can’t do justice to how good he was.”
Topeka counterparts Rasmus Tirronen and Eric Rohrkemper had six and 14 saves, respectively.
All the Ice Dogs scoring in regulation came from Interior Alaska skaters — forwards Ajec Hajdukovich and Tayler Munson of Fairbanks and Jared Linnell of North Pole.
“They were the difference for us, they gave us a chance to win,” Hauge said. “For the first 60 minutes, not a lot of our guys were going, but they sure were.”
Hajdukovich scored with Munson’s assist at 11:42 of the first period for the only goal of the opening stanza.
Munson made it 2-0 at 6:10 into the second period with an unassisted marker and Linnell stretched the lead to 3-0 at the 8:40 mark.
Topeka’s rally began at 10:48 of the second, as Davey Middleton, adied by Jordan Davis and Kyle Sharkey, scored the first of his two goals.
“They’re a heck of a hockey team,” Hauge said. “For a few minutes, they controlled the play but we had a better goalie.”
Sharkey, with help from Middleton and Bob Marx, cut the lead to 3-2 at the 19:00 mark of the middle period.
Middleton forced overtime after scoring at 8:43 of the third with a helper from Chris Bond.
Though the Ice Dogs prevailed, the opener gave the reigning West Division titlists an indication of what awaits during the next four days of the tournament.
“We knew were going to play three really good hockey teams and it was going to be a battle every night,” Hauge said. “To get through tonight and find a way to win was huge.”
“In this format, there’s no points for an overtime loss,” he said. “It’s huge to get two points (in the standings for a win).”
Incoming Alaska Nanooks recruit and Topeka defenseman Trevor Campbell had two shots and a -1. Munson and Linnell are 2012-13 Nanooks recruits.
The Ice Dogs face the Michigan Warriors at 1:05 p.m. ADT today. Michigan lost 5-2 earlier Tuesday to the Amarillo Bulls of Texas.
“I expect them to be a good team,” Hauge said of the Warriors of Flint, Mich. “I don’t know a ton about them but they have a great goalie and they pretty solid team defense.”
Warriors goalie Robert Tadazak had 29 saves in the loss to Amarillo.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.