The North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs defeated the East Division champion Aston Rebels 2 – 1 in the first game of the league’s Robertson Cup semi-final series. The Ice Dogs have a 1 – 0 lead in this best of three series.
It was a tight checking, very fast paced and well played game on both sides with goaltenders Gavin Nieto and Darion Hanson keeping their respective team in the game.
The Rebels got off to a quick start. Fairbanks Liam Stirtzinger was called for interference at the 5:22 mark of the first period. Thirteen seconds later the Rebels scored when defenseman Gvido Jansons took a blast from the top of the face off circle and Ice Dogs goalie Nieto made the initial save but couldn’t control the rebound. Dom Garcia picked up the loose puck and slid it past Nieto to give the Rebels a 1 – 0 lead.
As the second period began, the Ice Dogs started to control the game’s tempo. While initially not taking many shots, the team applied pressure in the Rebels zone. Then as the Rebels tried to break out, one of the team’s defenseman inadvertently passed the puck to Fairbanks’ Tyler Tomberlin. Tomberlin and line mate Reggie Lutz entered the Rebels zone on a 2 on 1. Tomberlin went far to his left then made a nice seem pass across the middle to Lutz who took a snap shot that went glove high past Rebels goalie Hanson to tie the game at one with two minutes left in the middle stanza. Immediately following the goal the Ice Dogs continued their pressure but Hanson made three successive saves to keep the game knotted at one going into the third.
As the third period began, both team had their scoring chances but each goalie made spectacular saves to keep the suspense going. Then another Rebels turnover at center ice led the Ice Dogs Adam Kleven and Lutz on a two on none break. Kleven took a designed low, far side shot that Hanson made a left pad save but the rebound came directly out to Lutz who scored his second goal of the game to put the Ice Dogs up 2 – 1 with 8:14 left in the period.
Immediately following the Ice Dogs goal the Rebels crashed the net. Andrew Bellant picked up a rebound and put it passed Nieto at 7:51 left in the game. However, the officials huddled together and waived off the goal saying that Bellant had made contact with Nieto before the puck went in causing goalie interference to negate the goal and keeping the score at 2 – 1.
As the siren sound, the Rebels were dejected. It was the team’s first loss in the playoffs. Yet it was a valiant effort. Nieto stopped 29 of 30 shots while Hanson made 24 saves on 26 shots. Click here for the box score.
Game two of the semi-final series will be played this afternoon at 4:30pm CDT. Should a game three be needed, it would be played on Saturday at 3:00pm CDT.