Anchorage Wolverines use dominant second period to win third straight over Fairbanks Ice Dogs

Jan. 20—In their first game on home ice since early December, the Anchorage Wolverines treated a rowdy sold-out crowd to a strong show of force Friday night at Ben Boeke Ice Arena as they defeated their in-state rival, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, 5-1.

"It seems like a lot longer than early December since we've been here, so I know the guys were excited," Wolverines head coach Nick Walters said. "I even said in the coaches room that it felt weird being here. We had just been on the road for so long. I know I was excited, my staff was excited, and I know those guys were excited to play in front of all the fans and it was a great crowd."

The intensity of their rivalry was palpable and boiled over several times as the game went on, resulting in numerous big hits, scuffles and a couple of all-out fights that kept both penalty boxes full for most of the second and third periods.

"It always seems to be a little bit more intense when we play Fairbanks," Walters said. "Even when I played youth hockey, it was always when you go up to Fairbanks or come down to Anchorage, there's always that little bit of rivalry."

Anchorage had five players record a goal, further highlighting the impressive depth of the team with a wealth of offensive-scoring talent.

"It's nice when you have depth and you can throw a line out there and have a scoring threat," Walters said. "Anytime you see five different guys scoring goals, it's exciting because that's what you need when it comes to playoffs because playoffs, it's going to be that much harder. When you have guys, you don't always have to count on the same guy, so having that depth is special."

This marked the Wolverines' third straight win over the Ice Dogs, coming off a two-game road sweep last weekend that took place in Fairbanks and was just as intense as Friday's bout by all accounts.

"It was pretty crazy playing up there and down here," Anchorage forward and local product Bryce Monrean said. "It was awesome and super fun to be playing back in front of the home crowd and being at home."

After a scoreless opening period, nearly eight minutes went by before he scored the first goal of the game at the 12:16 mark, and it took Will Shephard less than two minutes to score the second with 10:26 left on the clock.

"It's definitely fun, but I just stood in front of the net and let the other guys do the work," Monrean said.

He's been one of the Wolverines' most potent scorers as of late, scoring seven goals in the last seven games, including a pair of two-goal games.

"He is on fire," Walters said. "I don't know if it was the Christmas break or what it was, but he really has kind of come into his own these last three, four or five weekends. He's always been a go-to guy for us. He is awesome at face-offs, plays really well in the D zone, obviously can score goals and produce points on the offensive side. So it's really good to see him here rewarded."

Monrean believes that his recent success is a result of his teammates "doing all the hard stuff" and making sure he's in position to be on the receiving end of their passes when he's in prime scoring position.

"They've been finding me and getting me a few goals lately," he said.

Monrean credited the "electric" and infectious energy of their home fans with helping fuel the team throughout the game.

The Wolverines tacked on a third goal at the 4:48 mark by Taisetsu Ushio before Fairbanks recorded their first and only goal of the night, with 2:17 left in the second period. It took Anchorage only 29 seconds to respond with their fourth goal when Kade Shea found the back of the net to put an exclamation point on the explosive scoring period.

"Discipline was kind of the key going into that second period so we could play five on five, get everybody involved, and then once we got that first one, things started just really rolling quick for us," Walters said.

The third period featured far more fights than points, and at one point with about nine minutes left to play, both teams had three players in the penalty box and the Wolverines even had a player thrown out of the game.

Despite being shorthanded for stretches throughout the game, Anchorage was excellent on special teams when it came to defending on the power play, going a perfect 9-of-9 including a couple 5-on-3 opportunities in favor of Fairbanks.

"I was really happy with the penalty kill and power play got one," Walters said. "Our guys are really dialed in on that. I got to give a lot of credit to assistant coach Sam Graham. He runs a penalty kill and he's done a great job with it and our personnel that we have. Our players that are on the penalty kill are following suit, doing a great job, and getting it done for us."

[The Rewind: UAA basketball teams stay hot; Anchorage's Jeremy Swayman goes to NHL All-Star Game for first time]

Monrean said the extended time away has not only brought them closer together, it has also helped them learn to be "persistent and keep going when times get tough."

Walters believes that road trips are critical for building team camaraderie as well because they're doing everything together, including sharing meals, hotel rooms and long plane and bus rides, as well as team bonding events.

"Those trips for us are really important because I believe that if the locker room loves each other inside the locker room, they're going to care about each other out there," he said. "When you have that and all 25 guys buying into that, it makes for a real special team."

The Wolverines don't have many road trips left on their regular-season schedule. They'll make a short drive down to Soldotna to take on the Kenai River Brown Bears next Friday and on Feb. 16. Before that second matchup, they'll spend the first two weeks of February out of state playing the Wisconsin Windigo and Chippewa Steel in two-game series on back-to-back weekends.

"It's nice to know that we're going to be playing in Alaska for pretty much the rest of the season," Monrean said.