The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are home. Finally.
After opening the season with 10 straight games outside of Alaska, including four at the NAHL Showcase Tournament, the Ice Dogs are salivating to open the doors at Big Dipper Arena for the first time this weekend.
And with the Wenatchee Wild, which holds a league-high 24 points (12-2 record), coming to town, the energy in the building is certain to be sky-high.
“It’s a huge weekend for us,” said Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge of the three-game series, which begins on Friday night. “Between us playing our division rival and it being our home-opening weekend, there’s a lot of buzz around town.”
The weekend - Friday, especially - will also take on a patriotic feel, as 4,000 members of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Stryker Brigade, which recently returned home from Iraq, will be saluted as guests of the Ice Dogs.
“We expect our fans to be very intense,” said Hauge. “It should be an emotionally-charged game.”
With a 5-4-1 record to start the season, the Ice Dogs, who ranked second in both overall (58,112) and average attendance (2,003) last season, could use some home cooking.
“We need to continue to get better in our defensive zone and learn to compete for 60 minutes,” Hauge said of his team’s early-season performance.
One bright spot for Fairbanks has been the play of forward Mark Pustin. Now in his second season, the 19-year-old from Northridge, Calif., has eight goals for 16 points after 10 games.
“I’ve been very pleased with Mark,” Hauge said of the NAHL Showcase All-Tournament Team selection. “He’s had a great scoring touch around the net and has been working very hard in both ends of the ice.”
In other action around the NAHL this weekend, the Bismarck Bobcats continue their Alaska swing with a two-game set against the Kenai River Brown Bears.
In the South Division, the Texas Tornado visits the St. Louis Bandits for two games, and the Topeka RoadRunners head to Wichita Falls to take on the Wildcats for a pair. The Springfield Jr. Blues will play a two-game set in Janesville against the Jets.
The Alpena Ice Diggers head to Marquette for two North Division games against the Rangers, while the Traverse City North Stars travel to Motor City for a pair against the Machine.
In the Central, the Albert Lea Thunder and the North Iowa Outlaws will play a home-and-home series, and the Alexandria Blizzard will bus to Owatonna to take on the Express on Saturday.