Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Always dangerous at home, the West Division-leading Fairbanks Ice Dogs used the Big Dipper to their benefit again last weekend, collecting five of six points in a three-game set against the Wichita Falls Wildcats.
“We’re starting to get things going in the right direction,” said Ice Dogs head coach Josh Hauge, whose team improved to 7-4-3 on the season. “We have a big advantage playing in front of our fans and it’s important we get as many points as possible when we’re home.”
A crowd of 1,455 watched the Ice Dogs skate to a 5-3 win on Wednesday. Steve Zierke (two goals), Andrew McCabe (two assists) and Brad McCabe (goal, assist) each recorded two-point nights in the victory, and goaltender Phil Cook turned aside 31 shots.
After picking up a point in a shootout loss on Friday, the Ice Dogs wrapped up their week the next night with a 4-1 triumph over the Wildcats in front of 2,314 fans. Austin Block tallied two goals for Fairbanks, and Andrew McCabe, Brad McCabe and Drew Darwitz each chipped in two assists. Cook made 27 saves between the pipes.
Hauge, whose team has ushered in an entirely new defensive core after losing six defensemen from last year to Division I hockey, was pleased to see his club allow only five goals in regulation against Wichita Falls.
“Our team defense has been much better lately,” said the coach. “This group is gaining confidence and growing as a unit.”
Cook, who was acquired in a trade over the summer from Springfield, has been a difference-maker. The 18-year-old from Mason, Mich., is filling the void left in the Ice Dogs’ crease by last year’s league MVP Cody Reichard, who is now stopping pucks at Miami University.
“It all starts from the net out and Phil has been outstanding for us,” said Hauge. “He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s very athletic and uses his size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) to his advantage; he takes up a lot of the net. He’ll be a Division 1 goalie next year.”
The Ice Dogs are also getting steady offensive production from the McCabes - Andrew, a third-year University of Nebraska-Omaha recruit, and Brad, an NAHL veteran who played in 27 games with the University of Alaska-Anchorage last season before returning to the junior ranks.
“They’re special talents,” said Hauge of the pair (the two are not related). “They’re no question two of the top players in the league this year and they both will be key components to any success we have.”
As will Block, an Air Force Academy recruit and the Ice Dogs’ leading scorer with 19 points on nine goals. Now in his second season, the 19-year-old from California has blossomed into one of the NAHL’s top forwards.
“Austin has taken the next step to becoming an elite player,” said Hauge. “He’s learned to use his speed to his advantage and that’s why you’ll see him near the top of the league in scoring. He’s a natural goal-scorer and will be a great addition to Air Force next year.”
On the defensive side of the puck, Darwitz has impressed with a team-leading 10 points on the blue line, with newcomer Brandon Martell, a University of Minnesota recruit, also showing promise.
Upfront, Michael Juola has been a welcome addition and second-year forward Eric Kraft continues to deliver valuable contributions.
Unheralded veteran Paul Kirtland has also played a big role for Fairbanks early on.
“He’s without question the most overlooked player on the team,” said Hauge.
With a 1-3 start at September's Sherwood/NAHL Showcase Tournament, the Ice Dogs have suffered only one regulation loss since (6-1-3). Hauge, in his first year as head coach of the team, is confident his club is on the right track.
“We’ve started to turn the corner lately,” he said. “The guys have adjusted well to my style of coaching and I hope we continue to get better.
“We’re working on becoming a mentally-tougher team and our work ethic still needs to improve.”
Ten players from last year’s Ice Dogs team are now playing Division I hockey. With four already committed to Division I programs - Block, Martell, McCabe and Randy Cure (Mercyhurst College) - Hauge expects this year’s total to rival that of 2007-08.
“There are a lot of guys here that have the ability to play college hockey,” he said. “I think we should hit the double-digit mark again in terms of commitments.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Jason Cohen racked up two goals and an assist as the Avalanche skated to a two-game sweep over Kenai River. “Pretty good numbers for a defenseman,” said head coach Dave Boitz.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Ryan Johnson, from Jamestown, N.Y., connected for two goals in the Thunder’s 4-3 loss to Owatonna on Friday.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Goaltender Ryan Leets allowed only four goals against (64 saves) in his two starts against Marquette last weekend, both wins.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: With the weekend off, the IceDiggers head to Marquette for a three-game series starting on Thursday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Texas native John Wickman recorded a hat trick and an assist in the Bobcats’ 5-1 win over North Iowa on Thursday. “John and his linemates have been our most consistent line over the past few weeks,” said head coach Byron Pool. “It was nice to see all their hard work and effort finally rewarded with a great game.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: After starting the season in the USHL, University of Minnesota recruit Brandon Martell has two assists in his first four games with the Ice Dogs.
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Ryan Lemke, from Michigan, collected two goals and an assist in the Brown Bears’ 7-4 loss to Alaska on Friday. He has four goals in his last four games.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: In three games against Traverse City, defenseman John Houston, from Pittsburgh, recorded a goal and was a plus-4 for the weekend.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: The Rangers traded forward Josh Bussell and a third-round pick in the 2009 NAHL Entry Draft to Motor City for forward Andy Inderieden and defenseman Reed Rushing.
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: Goaltender Joe Rogers, from Marysville, Mich., has committed to the University of Notre Dame (CCHA) for next season.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Head coach Jeff Crouse is high on his team’s balanced attack upfront. “We have plenty of offensive firepower, which surprises teams because they look at the stats and don’t necessarily see a guy with high numbers, but there’s a reason for that and it’s depth,” he said.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Defenseman Tim Smith, from Superior, Wis., put home a goal and three assists as the Express skated to a pair of wins over Albert Lea. “Tim’s play gets better every week because of his work ethic and very good hockey instincts,’ said head coach Pat Cullen.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Nick Curry figured in all three Jr. Blues goals last weekend with a goal and two assists in three losses.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Dan Olszewski, from Janesville, Wis., tallied the game-winning goal in St. Louis’ 3-2 win over Springfield on Tuesday. It was the Bandits’ only game of the week.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Pittsburgh native Bryce Merriam picked up his second shutout of the season on Saturday as the RoadRunners blanked Springfield, 3-0 (26 saves).
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: North Stars’ leading-scorer Kyle Bonis potted a goal and two assists as Traverse City finished the week with a 2-1 mark against Mahoning Valley.
TEAM USA: Jason Zucker and Stuart Higgins each scored two goals in the Under-17 Team’s two-game sweep of Motor City last weekend.
WENATCHEE WILD: Idle last weekend, the Wild commences a three-game series at home against Wichita Falls on Wednesday. Wenatchee has only played seven games this season, the fewest in the league.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Air Force recruit Kyle Delaurell scored two goals, along with the only shootout tally in the Wildcats’ 2-1 win over Fairbanks on Friday, as Wichita Falls went 1-2 against the Ice Dogs.