If one examines the North American Hockey League’s standings, the Dawson Creek Rage had absolutely no business being tied with the Fairbanks Icedogs 50 minutes through their tilt Saturday night at the EnCana Events Centre.
The Icedogs are the defending NAHL champions, sit among the best in the 28-team league this year, lead the West Division and are 50 points in front of the Rage. At the other end of the standings, the Rage have just nine wins and are the second worst team in the American-based league.
For a while it appeared as if the local Jr. A team might just steal its 10th win - but it was not to be.
With 7:16 left in the game, Icedog Gabe Levin’s shot deflected high over Rage tender Paul Bourbeau’s shoulder. The hosts were unable to get the equalizer, and Fairbanks escaped with a 2-1 win.
“We haven’t beat the Icedogs yet, and tonight we were really close to doing that. It is kind of a heartbreaker because everyone was trying so hard. It would have really felt good to get the win tonight,” said Dawson Creek forward Austin Adduono, who had the lone Rage goal.
In the final minute of the first period, Icedog Garret Clemment was behind the Dawson Creek net and came out to Bourbeau’s right but snuck a pass behind him and off the boards to Rudy Sulmonte who was on the left side of the net and he easily tucked it into the open cage to make it 1-0.
Adduono knotted the score with the only goal of the middle frame when he managed to get his stick on a shot from Evan Ripley at 5:52.
“It came off the wall, and I happened to be lucky enough to be standing in front and get my stick on it,” explained Adduono.
Unlike Friday night’s match opposite the same club, the hosts made very few mental errors for 60 minutes, but like the game 24 hours ago it was the third period when the Rage had trouble keeping up with their guests.
The shots were almost even – 25-22 in favour of the Icedogs – after 40 minutes, but Dawson Creek was vastly outshot 17-3 in the third period.
As soon as the puck dropped to start the last frame, the Icedogs were all over the Rage. Just 54 seconds in, the Icedogs rang the puck off the post, Bourbeau made several outstanding saves and there were several open-net opportunities that the Fairbanks forwards missed before Levin managed to turn on the red light.
“It was a real tough loss. We really didn’t like our effort last night, albeit shorthanded. We played better in a lot of ways, but when the third period came up you can’t be dominated like we were – 17 shots to three. We were just hoping at that point. They are very, very good and they are where they are at [first place] for a reason. We just have to be more active in the third period to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Rage had two overlapping penalties in the final minutes that included a 62 second five-on-three but couldn’t beat Fairbanks goalie Alex Fons for the tying goal.