The Fairbanks Ice Dogs put a crimp in the Janesville Jets’ New Year’s celebration.
The two North American Hockey League teams returned to the ice this weekend after more than a month off due to a pause in Midwest Division play.
And the Ice Dogs swept a three-game series, winning 4-2 on both Thursday and Friday before rallying to a 5-4 victory in overtime Saturday night.
If there was a first lesson of 2021 to be learned, it was perhaps just a reminder how much the little things matter, as the Jets had chances to win all three games but came away empty-handed.
“A couple bounces or a crucial play here or there and we win all three games,” first-year head coach Parker Burgess said. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get the results. But we’re still very confident in this group. Sometimes you learn more from weekends like this than you do if you squeak it out.
“It’s one bounce, one detail, one power play here or there.”
On Thursday, the Jets outshot the Ice Dogs 40-20 and recovered from a two-goal deficit in the first period to tie the game in the second.
After Cade Destefani scored less than five minutes into the second, Charlie Schoen made it 2-2 on feeds from Max Itagaki and Destefani at 6:43.
But Fairbanks answered with a goal just 11 seconds later and added an empty-netter in the final minutes of the game to preserve the win.
“On Thursday, we played excellent, and the difference was just that their goalie played great,” Burgess said of Kayden Hargraves, who made 38 saves. “Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap. We controlled and dominated play, and when it was 2-2 we had a five-minute power play in the second period we weren’t able to capitalize on.
“That kind of gave their goalie and opportunity to steal it.”
Friday’s game produced the same score but in different fashion. Burgess said the Ice Dogs controlled play.
But the Jets built a 2-0 lead on goals by Carter Hottmann and Max Itagaki in the first five minutes of the second period.
Fairbanks, though, tied the game heading into the second intermission, scoring just six seconds before the break. It took the lead on Austin Becker’s goal with 5:24 left in the game, and Bret Link added an empty-netter in the final seconds.
“I don’t think we played great,” Burgess said. “But then Saturday I thought was an excellent hockey game both ways. Both teams had the same number of shot attempts, had the same shots on net, faceoffs were even.”
The Jets never trailed in regulation, and they led 3-1 late in the second after Destefani scored again.
But again Fairbanks rallied, including scoring in the last second of the period to make it 3-3 at the intermission.
The Jets regained the lead on Jake Dunlap’s goal midway through the third, but the Ice Dogs pulled their goalie and scored in the final minute to force overtime, where Scott McKenzie scored to give Fairbanks the sweep.
Burgess credited captain Carter Hottmann, along with forward Jackson Ezman and defenseman Spencer Kring, with leading the charge for the Jets on the ice throughout the weekend.
“It’s 4-3 and we’re playing great with some momentum,” Burgess said. “And then we miss an empty net by an inch.
“But overall this weekend, I was happy with the effort.”
And happy to be back playing NAHL games. The division paused in late November due to protocols outside the state of Wisconsin.
Burgess said every Jets player tested negative before returning to Janesville, where they were tested again and all again came back negative.
Janesville is set to host Kenai River this week with games Friday and Saturday night.
(Result Thursday)FAIRBANKS 4, JANESVILLE 2Fairbanks 2 1 1—4
Janesville 0 2 0—2
First PeriodF—Laker Aldridge (Kaleb Welvaert, Mason Plante), 0:58. F—Bret Link (Evan Junker, Tyler Herzberg), 10:50.
Second PeriodJ—Cade Destefani (Jaxson Ezman, Xavier Lapointe), pp, 4:45. J—Charlie Schoen (Max Itagaki, Destefani), 6:43. F—Aldridge (Plante, Jake Hale), 6:54.
Third PeriodF—Tyler Stewart, en, 18:23.
Saves—Kayden Hargraves (F) 38, Riley Sims (J) 16.
(Result Friday)FAIRBANKS 4, JANESVILLE 2Fairbanks 0 2 2—4
Janesville 0 2 0—2
Second PeriodJ—Carter Hottmann (Justin Engelkes, Will Troutwine), sh, 3:51. J—Itagaki (Ezman, Shane Ott), 4:18. F—Austin Becker (Link, Andrew Garby), 7:55. F—Jack Ring (Jacob Conrad, Nick Ostbloom), pp, 19:54.
Third PeriodF—Becker (Link, Garby), 14:36. F—Link (Tyler Herzberg), en, 19:56.
Saves—Hargraves 30, Owen Millward (J) 36.
(Result Saturday)FAIRBANKS 5, JANESVILLE 4, OTFairbanks 0 3 1 1—5
Janesville 1 2 1 0—4
First PeriodJ—Hottmann (Jake Sacratini, Engelkes), 10:49.
Second PeriodF—Billy Renfrew (Jasper Lester, Cam Ricotta), 2:38. J—Matthew Romer (Alexander Lucken, Destefani), 5:49. J—Destefani (Itagaki, Blake Dangos), pp, 13:45. F—Nick Ostbloom (Lester, Scott McKenzie), 15:57. F—Brendan Murphy (Junker, Link), 19:59.
Third PeriodJ—Jake Dunlap (Shane Ott, Itagaki), 10:20. F—Aldridge (Brendan Miles, Leser), ea, 19:29.
OvertimeF—McKenzie (Link, Conrad), 2:57.