The opponents in the North American Hockey League Robertson Cup Championship Series are no strangers. The top-seeded Fairbanks Ice Dogs played the third-seeded Austin Bruins four times in the regular season, and three games were decided by one goal.
The Ice Dogs and Bruins face off at 7:30 tonight at the Big Dipper Ice Arena in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series. Austin edged Fairbanks 2-1 on Oct. 25 and 4-3 on Dec. 31 at the Riverside Arena in Austin, Minnesota. The Ice Dogs swept Feb. 14-15 at the Big Dipper, respectively winning 5-4 and 4-1.
“They’re (Austin) playing some of their best hockey now,’’ Stewart said after Wednesday’s practice at the Dipper. “The teams are evenly matched from what we get from video and from past games we’ve had with them.”
Chris Tok echoed his Fairbanks counterpart. Tok has been Austin’s head coach since it began four years ago as an expansion franchise. “I think we both maybe took a little bit of how the game was played there and have our teams play that with a little bit of a twist,’’ Tok said.
Stewart and Tok also coached, respectively, for the Midwest Division and Central Division teams in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in February in Troy, Michigan. “I think our teams play a very similar puck possession (style), we want both want to get in and create turnovers,’’ Tok continued.
The Ice Dogs played host to the 2007 Robertson Cup Tournament; were runners-up in the 2010 tournament in Frisco, Texas; and won the title in 2011 in Topeka, Kansas. This season’s squad set a goal on the first day of practice to play for the Robertson Cup.
“We’re here now and we’ve got to make the most of it,’’ Ice Dogs center Hans Gorowsky said. “It’s going to be fun, the building’s going to be packed and the town is going to be excited. “I know most of the guys on the team have parents coming in,’’ he added. “It’s just a great time of the year.”
The Ice Dogs and Bruins reached this time of the year by winning in April in best-of-five division first-round and final series, and by succeeding in best-of-three Robertson Cup semifinal series. The Ice Dogs swept the Michigan Warriors last weekend — 3-1 Friday and 3-0 Saturday — at the Dipper. The Bruins lost 7-5 last Friday to the second-seeded Topeka RoadRunners in Topeka, Kansas, and responded with a 6-4 win in Game 2 Saturday, and a 4-3 overtime victory Sunday.
“To be part of that first (Bruins) team that ever made it to the Robertson Cup finals is a great feeling,” said Austin wing Jay Dickman.
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