24 in 24 Series: Fairbanks Ice Dogs
August 26, 2014
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2014-15 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 12th as six NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night. 24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2014-15 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team. It will also take a look back on the 2013-14 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Head Coach: Trevor Stewart (4th year)
2013-14 record: 45-14-1, 91 pts. (1st in the Midwest Division, 1st overall in the NAHL)
2013-14 leading scorer: Tayler Munson (56 GP, 24 G, 34 A, 58 pts, +36)
2014 Playoffs: Won the 2014 NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship, defeating the Austin Bruins, 2 games to 0
2014-15 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 12th @ Kenai River Brown Bears, 7:30pm
Home opener: Friday, October 3rd vs. Bismarck Bobcats, 7:30pm
It was a season to remember for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs last year. It is not very often that the stars align where just about everything goes right in every facet of the game, but in the case for the Ice Dogs that is exactly what happened in 2013-14. If you ask those around the organization to rank everything that took place, two accomplishments really stand out. The first is that for the fourth season in a row, the Ice Dogs were in double digits in NCAA commitments. Their 12 commitments last season, equaled a franchise best and 10 of those commitments were Division I commitments. Secondly, the Ice Dogs not only were the best team during the regular season, as they finished with 45 wins and the top record in the league, but they also were the best team in the post-season as they captured their second NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship in the last four years.
The accolades and accomplishments didn’t stop there for the Ice Dogs. For the fourth straight year, General Manager Rob Proffitt was honored as the NAHL General Manager of the Year. Beyond all the on ice success, Proffitt helped his team sellout 24 of possible 28 home games last season, which lead the NAHL. With a seating capacity of 2,242 at the Big Dipper Ice Arena, the Ice Dogs averaged 2,182 fans during the 2013-14 season, which put them at an amazing 97.3% capacity. Head Coach Trevor Stewart was honored as the Coach of the Year in the NAHL. Not only did the Ice Dogs win the Robertson Cup and have the most wins of anyone in the league, but Fairbanks also had 21 wins on the road, which also led the NAHL. Under Stewart, the Ice Dogs possessed the best offense in the NAHL and he was also selected to coach at the 2014 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
To wrap things up, the Ice Dogs were also honored as the NAHL Organization of the Year. All of it put a nice cap on what was a memorable season for Fairbanks. While the Robertson Cup celebration and recognition lasted well into the summer, Stewart had little time to celebrate as just days after winning the Robertson Cup he was off to one of several tryout camps followed by the NAHL Draft. “Winning the Robertson Cup was a lot of fun and it was exciting to see it pay off for the players,” said Stewart. “We had very little time to sit back and celebrate and it was encouraging to hear the guys that were going to be returning this season already talking about trying to get motivated to try and win and defend the cup this season.”
Stewart said that the task for this season was not only to replace the tremendous amount of talent that was lost, but also to find players that had a desire to come to Fairbanks to continue what was started. “We wanted to find players that were intrinsically motivated. Last year is now behind us, but we will enter each game with a target on our chest. We have to have players that are going to have the right sort of attitude and chemistry in the lockerroom to handle those challenges on a game-by-game basis and not be satisfied with an accomplishment of what happened last year,” said Stewart.
In the case of the Ice Dogs, the winning and NCAA commitments went hand in hand. “We take pride in both,” said Stewart. “Half our team had NCAA commitments and that is something we strive for on an annual basis. The talent level of the players league-wide is at a very good place right now. The competitiveness is another thing that stands out. Each team is very well coached and every night is a battle, so that elevates everyone’s game and that is a major reason behind the commitment numbers across the board.”
Stewart said that one of the major assets of last year’s team was the depth in the roster, and it is something that the team strides for this season. “The guys that were depth players last year will step into those enhanced roles this year and then the new players will have a chance to find their niche and place in the line-up, but getting into the line-up is merit based. We want guys to earn and work hard for their spot in the line-up. We don’t want to be a one-trick pony, which is why depth at every position is something that is very important.”
Most of the Ice Dogs veteran depth is on offense, but Patrick Munson returns as the lone veteran goalie and the Johnny Mueller returns as the lone veteran defenseman. Up front some of the key veterans include: Lonnie Clary (35 points), Hans Gorowsky (32 points), Jacob Hetz (31 points), Chandler Madry (25 points), Ethan Somoza (21 points), Yannick Vedel (17 points) and Todd Burgess (16 points). As for any new faces, Stewart said that the new players that they have brought in provide the depth that was a trademark of the Championship team from 2013-14.
No doubt, the Ice Dogs would like a repeat performance from last season, both from an on ice, off ice and NCAA commitment standpoint, but Stewart said that they will approach this season like any other. “We don’t really set goals, which may surprise some people. We focus on the now and what is important in the very short term. We take the approach that each game is our most important of the season without looking ahead at what’s next. If we stick to that game plan, the focus on the players doesn’t stray from what is immediately important,” said Stewart.
Next up in the NAHL 24 in 24 series: Janesville Jets, August 27th