Every time the Anchorage Wolverines and Fairbanks Ice Dogs face off on the ice, there will likely be plenty of physical hockey and chippy play. Friday night’s game at Ben Boeke Ice Arena was no different.
While the Wolverines participated in and even instigated their fair share of scrums in the first meeting between the two teams of the 2023-24 season, they kept their composure when it mattered most and came away with a 5-2 victory.
“Any time we play Fairbanks or Kenai (River Brown Bears), but Fairbanks especially, the intensity ramps up,” Wolverines head coach Nick Walters said. “It’s an intense rivalry and the physicality always seems to ramp up a little bit.”
While the Wolverines were whistled for over 30 penalty minutes in total, nearly half of it was the result of a 15-minute fighting major from the second period.
“I was proud of my guys that we played hard, we played physical, and I felt like we stuck up for each other but we also played the right way and we played disciplined,” Walters said.
Belarusian forward Fyodor Nikolayenya led the team with a pair of goals to increase his season-leading total to 10.
“It’s great to win against Fairbanks,” he said. “It was nice to see the fans going off about the fights. It’s always a rivalry.”
His first goal broke a 2-2 tie in the second period to give Anchorage the lead for the final time, and his second goal came on an empty netter in the final minute to put the cherry on top of the team’s fourth win in their last five games.
“That was right after a really good penalty kill, and we got right back into their zone,” Walters said of the go-ahead goal. “It was a great play by Ameen (Ghosheh) to point, and then (Fyodor) with the really nice tip.”
In addition to a strong offensive outing, Anchorage defended exceptionally well on special teams, scoring once on the power play and not allowing Fairbanks to capitalize on any of its four changes over the course of the game.
“Special teams is so important every single night,” Walters said. “If you can kill off as many kills as possible, and if you can score on the power play, that’s a lot of times the difference between winning and losing.”
The Wolverines were able to establish an early two-goal lead in the first 10 minutes of the opening period after hometown forwards Luke Anderson and Bryce Monrean both found the back of the net. But the Ice Dogs cut the Anchorage lead in half with a goal from forward Cole Burke at the halfway point of the first period.
“It breeds confidence in the team when you can score first and kind of play with a lead,” Walters said. “Guys play a little bit more loose and a bit more free.”
Each team opened the second period shorthanded after a scrum as time expired in the first period. Another fight ensued in which both players ditched their gloves and started throwing hands in front of the Ice Dogs goal.
After a scoreless 10 1/2 minutes, Fairbanks knotted the game at 2-2 on a goal by forward Wyatt Carlson just moments after the Wolverines returned to full strength following another successful penalty kill.
The stalemate would be short-lived as Nikolayenya scored his first goal of the night and ninth goal of the season with just over two minutes left in the period, putting Anchorage back in the lead for good.
“I saw Blake Markwell, he was trying to shoot it, but in the last moment I saw him pass it to me, and I was in the right spot at the perfect time and just tipped it in,” Nikolayenya said.
It took less than four minutes for the Wolverines to extend their lead on a goal from forward Cole Christian. The Ice Dogs desperately tried to rally, including pulling their goalie late in the game. After a few of his teammates failed to get the puck in the back of the vacated net, Nikolayenya finally succeeded with 25.6 seconds left in the game.
With the win, Anchorage extended its lead in the standings for the Club 49 Cup as they look to repeat as winners of the Alaska-centric award for the second year in a row.
“We have a lot of young guys that want to win that cup,” Nikolayenya said. “It’s one of the top priorities for us.”