Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Right in the thick of the NAHL’s South Division race, the second-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs kept pace last weekend with two wins over the Kenai River Brown Bears.
“Anytime you can get four points on the road in a divisional matchup, it’s huge,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge, whose team improved to 15-9-2 on the season. “We’re chasing a very good Wichita Falls team and trying to stay ahead of strong Topeka team.”
On Friday, goaltender Cody Reichard steered aside all 28 shots as the Ice Dogs blanked the Brown Bears, 1-0. Austin Block scored the game’s only goal in the second period, with Drew Darwitz and Caleb Harrison assisting.
The next night, Aaron Stonacek struck for two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist as Fairbanks downed Kenai River, 7-3. Between the pipes, R.J. Copeland made 33 saves.
And the Ice Dogs, whose trademark this season has been sound defensive play, were again without Andrew McCabe, the team’s leading-scorer who has been out of the lineup since early November with a broken leg.
“When he went down, we’ve had to focus on good team defense and scoring by committee,” said Hauge. “Getting Andrew back in January will be a big boost for our offense.”
Stonacek provided the big boost on Saturday. The 20-year-old who played last season in the Eastern Junior League with the New England Huskies has answered the call in McCabe’s absence.
“He’s really stepped his game up the past month,” said Hauge. “He has a great shot and a quick release. He has the ability to score a lot of goals and we need him to continue to do that to have success.”
Now in his third year with Fairbanks, Arthur Bidwill has legitimized himself as elite defenseman, ranking second in team scoring with 16 points (five goals) to compliment a dependable plus-6 rating.
“Arthur is a fantastic young man and a fantastic hockey player,” said Hauge. “He’s been very key for us on the power play and scoring crucial goals for us. And as great as he’s been offensively, his defensive play has been even better.”
And it doesn’t hurt having Reichard, who has three shutouts on the season, tied for most in the NAHL with North Iowa’s Robby Moss, as the last line of defense.
“This is Cody Reichard’s team, and we’ll go as far as he takes us,” said Hauge. “There’s not a better example of a junior hockey player in the U.S. He brings an unbelievable work ethic to the rink every day, and he’s great in the locker room and in the community.”
In addition to Bidwill, defenseman Peter Kavaya, Matt Carlson and Brock Shelgren – all Division I-caliber players, according to Hauge - have been nothing short of exceptional on the blue line.
“Having those four in front of Reichard gives us a chance to win every night,” said Hauge. “Those four are all selfless and four of the best team guys that a coach can ask for.”
And that should translate into Division I opportunities for the quartet, with others receiving interest as well. Alex McRae (Army) is the team’s only commitment to date, but McCabe is on the shortlist of a number of schools, as are Stonacek and Gianni Baldassari. A few first-year Ice Dogs are also getting looks, according to Hauge.
“We should have another strong season of college commitments,” said Hauge, who helped send seven players to Division I schools last season.
And the college cause will only be helped with continued success as a team. With the Ice Dogs taking care of business in their own end with regularity, they would like to put a few more pucks in the net.
“We have to get more production offensively,” said Hauge, whose club is averaging less than three goals a game. “We need to start finishing more.
“We need to stay focused on our team defense and continue to get clutch and timely scoring. If we can start scoring three and four goals a game, we’ll be a team that has a chance to contend at the end.”
Hauge anticipates those tables to turn with the continued maturation of seven talented first-year frontmen.
“Our young forwards are getting better every game and, the more confidence they get, the more games we’ll win,” said the coach. “They’re playing a lot for us and they all have the chance to be very good.”
Overall, the Ice Dogs have no complaints with where they sit entering December.
“We’ve given some games away that we should have won, but, with that being said, we’ve stolen a few, too,” said Hauge. “ I think we’re in a good spot right now, but we’re going to have to better in the second half of the season to win the South.”
AROUND THE NAHL
MIDGET SHOWCASE APPROACHES: The second tournament of this year’s NAHL Midget Showcase Series will be held next week from Dec. 13-16 at The Summit Center in Chesterfield, Mo. For more details, visit www.nahlmidgetshowcase.com.
NAHL LAUNCHES PHOTO STORE: The NAHL announced the launch of its official photo store at www.nahlphotos.com. Fans and families can browse and purchase over 3,400 images of their favorite players from all 18 NAHL teams.
HULL TO WEST POINT: St. Louis forward Mike Hull, 19, has committed to Army (Atlantic Hockey) for next season. The Grosse Pt. Woods, Mich., native has five goals for nine points after 19 games this year.
VIAU IMPRESSES: Alpena forward Isaac Viau, 20, continues to deliver offensively, posting points in 10 of his last 14 games (16), including a goal in the IceDiggers’ 4-1 loss to Mahoning Valley on Friday. “Isaac is emerging as a leader on this team, both in the dressing room and on the ice,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller.
ALUM COPS CCHA ACCOLADE: Ferris State University junior defenseman Evan Case (Mahoning Valley, 2004-05) was named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week after scoring two goals and an assist in the Bulldogs’ two-game sweep of Western Michigan last weekend.
FORMER JET HONORED: Air Force junior forward Brent Olson (Fargo-Moorhead, 2004-05) was named the Atlantic Hockey Offensive Player of the Week after scoring three goals in the Falcons’ two-game sweep of American International College last weekend.
LEADER OF THE PACK: Mahoning Valley forward Derek Graham, 19, tallied two more goals and an assist in last weekend's split with Alpena. The Ferris State recruit leads the league in goals (20) and is tied for the lead in scoring (38).
KREMER STAYS HOT: Bismarck goaltender Jake Kremer,19, has won his last six starts, including a 36-save shutout performance in the Bobcats’ 3-0 win over Fargo-Moorhead on Friday.