The ‘24 in 24’ series features an in-depth look into all 24 NAHL teams, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Saturday, September 8th.
‘24 in 24’ will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interview with all 24 NAHL head coaches as they prognosticate and break down their outlook for the upcoming season.
Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Since their inception, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs have set a remarkable standard of success both on and off the ice. Their success became more prominent as the Ice Dogs entered the NAHL in the 2003-04 season and immediately made their mark. It culminated and came to a peak in May of 2011 when the Ice Dogs won their first Robertson Cup National Championship and set out to defend that Championship last season. It was a tough task, as defending Championships always are, but the Ice Dogs put together another memorable season that earned them another trip to the Robertson Cup Tournament and placed 11 players into NCAA schools during the season.
“We felt like the season was a success. Obviously, when you’re as close as we were losing in overtime to the eventual Champions (Texas Tornado) in the National Semi-Finals, there is a little disappointment, but we are more than thrilled that we had the opportunity to defend our Championship and that almost a dozen of our players had the opportunity to develop and move onto the next level of hockey, because that’s what we are here for,” remarked Fairbanks head coach Trevor Stewart.
The Ice Dogs also had another phenomenal year at the gate. 24 of the 28 home games played at the Big Dipper Ice Arena were sell-outs, tops in the NAHL, continuing the long-standing tradition and support from the Fairbanks community. “Having of group of players and young men that the community recognizes and then appreciates the effort they give on a night in and night out basis, means the world to us and is one of the major reasons that they continue to show their tremendous support each season,” said Stewart. “It is of the utmost importance that we have a team that the community can be proud of.”
The community should have been proud as the Ice Dogs again claimed the West Division regular season and playoff titles for the second straight season. The Ice Dogs also finished with three players on the All-NAHL 1st team (Gabe Levin, JT Osborn, Sean O'Rourke), three players on the All-West Division Team (Levin, Osborn, O’Rourke), one player on the All-Rookie 2nd Team (Justin Woods) and for the second straight season, Ice Dogs GM Rob Proffitt won NAHL General Manager of the Year.
Stewart knew that heading into the 2012-13 season, he was going to have to work hard at replacing over half the players on the roster, including eight of his top scorers from last season. “In building a team for this season, it helped that we had a capable goaltender returning in Steve Perry,” said Stewart. “He gives us a solid foundation in goal, which is one of the key things to success in this league. However, we knew the immediate need was replacing the offense we lost and we believe we have done that with some forwards that are good, all-around hockey players that can contribute in all areas.”
“There was a focus on improving the skill and depth of the team for this season. There should be a lot more contribution from the entire roster because the players will have the opportunity to play in all situations, whereas last season, it may have been limited to a handful of guys because of their veteran experience and presence,” said Stewart.
Colton Wolter and Garrett Clemment are two of the returning forwards that will be providing a veteran presence to the Ice Dogs roster, while Doug Rose and Nick Hinz will be two of the important veteran defensemen, along with the addition of Perry in goal. “There are only six returning players, so the veterans will players will play an important leadership role. Although the majority of the roster will be new, we feel like we will strong and have some pretty good depth,” said Stewart.
Because of the inexperience to begin the season, Stewart said the team’s goals will remain simple. “We just want to get better a game at a time and each time we step on the ice. As the season goes along we will add goals to our list, but for right now we have to see how the puzzle fits together.”
Rest assured the Ice Dogs will reload and will be solid, making themselves part of the Robertson Cup conversation list yet again. “Once this new group gets to play in front of a sold out crowd of 2,300 screaming fans, they will learn very quickly what it is like to play in Fairbanks and the tradition that has been established here. Hopefully they will adapt quickly and be an exciting group to watch,” said Stewart.
Next up in the NAHL 24 Teams in 24 Days series, the Coulee Region Chill.