The last time the Fairbanks Ice Dogs won the Robertson Cup, in 2016, it was in large part thanks to a breakout, tournament MVP effort from Elk River native Reggie Lutz, who scored five goals over three games to pace the Ice Dogs. On Friday night, it was another Elk River native carrying Fairbanks again as Jax Murray opened and closed the scoring with a pair of goals and added an assist in a 4-2 victory over the Minot Minotauros in Game 1 of a best-of-three Robertson Cup semifinal at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
It was all Fairbanks in the first 20 minutes. The Ice Dogs scored twice in a span of 36 seconds early in the opening frame on goals by Murray and Caleb Hite, and took a commanding 3-0 lead with just over a minute remaining in the period when Sam Ruffin finished off a two-on-one with Jack Johnston.
Minot answered back with a much better second period. They scored in the first minute of the period and evened up a lopsided shots on goal margin.
They would draw closer in the third period when Grant Loven cut into the slot and scored to make it a 3-2 game. But it was Murray who would provide the dagger. Just 58 seconds after Loven’s goal, Murray raced down the ice past a Minot defender to win a loose puck and fired a perfect shot into the upper corner of the net to make it a 4-2 game.
Fairbanks defender Nolan Schaeffer would bank a shot off the boards and into an open net in the final minute to finish off the scoring.
With the victory, Fairbanks takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. The two teams meet again tomorrow at 4:30pm with Fairbanks looking to earn a trip to Monday’s title game, while Minot will try to extend the series to a decisive game three on Sunday.
Notes and Thoughts
-Not only is Fairbanks always a really good team, they’re always one of the most fun teams to watch in the NAHL because of the uptempo, skill game they play. That was on full display tonight with the Ice Dogs creating numerous transition opportunities, and converting on nearly every one.
It starts with a really good blue full of guys that can move the puck. That gives Fairbanks the ability to cheat a little bit offensively and send forwards rushing up the ice looking for odd-man opportunities. And once they get those chances, they’re really good. They’ve always got somebody driving hard to the net and they’re getting the puck to the front of the net. They looked really impressive tonight.
-A great game from Jax Murray, who was always one of my personal favorites during his Minnesota high school days. He’s a smart, heady offensive player, but both goals tonight were pure hustle plays where he just outworked his defender to create space. This tournament two years ago is what helped Reggie Lutz get his opportunity at Minnesota State, and could serve as a similar springboard for Murray if he has another couple games like tonight.
-Credit Minot for bouncing back after an ugly first period. Early on, this felt like it could be a blowout, but the Minotauros regrouped in the locker room and played even the rest of the way to make it a really close game.
-If Fairbanks has a weakness that could be exploited, I thought goalie Josh Benson left a few rebounds, especially early that Minot might be able to take advantage of.
4:59 Jax Murray from Jack Johnston 1-0 Fairbanks
Johnston carried the puck down the right wing 1-on-1 with a defender. Murray outskated his defender up the middle of the ice to create a 2-on-1 situation. Johnston fed the puck to Murray in the slot, and Murray put a backhand low glove side on Lonkila.
The @fbx_IceDogs are flying to open the 1st period, which included this first goal of the 2018 #NAHL #RobertsonCup from Elk River, Minnesota native Jax Murray. pic.twitter.com/ZN5axiVf9t— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 11, 2018
5:35 Caleb Hite from 2-0 Fairbanks
A bad gamble to pinch by a Minot defender in the netural zone allowed Hite to catch a clearing attempt off the boards with a 2-on-1 break in front of him in the neutral zone. Hite skated down the left wing and chose to keep the puck for himself, and scored on a shot high glove side.
Less than a minute later, @fbx_IceDogs forward Caleb Hite scores to make it 2-0 in Game 1 of the 2018 #NAHL #RobertsonCup pic.twitter.com/cdKc5Pg8pZ— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 11, 2018
18:43 Sam Ruffin from Jack Johnston and Jax Murray 3-0 Fairbanks
Johnston skated the puck down the left wing on a 2-on-1 rush and feathered a beautiful pass to Ruffin in the slot, who redirected the puck into an open goal.open goal.
The @fbx_IceDogs are in full go mode and right before the 1st period ends, forward Sam Ruffin converts on a 2 on 1, and it is 3-0 Fairbanks at the end of one period. #NAHL #RobertsonCup pic.twitter.com/6gsAYSR6hL— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 11, 2018
0:59 Colby Enns from Miroslav Mucha and Ondrej Pavel 3-1 Fairbanks
Pavel made a drop pass back to Mucha along the left half-boards and Mucha made a quick cross-ice pass to Enns, who snuck in from the point to deflect the puck into the goal.
The 2nd period begins with @MinotauroHockey getting on the board on this nice back door pass to make it 3-1 in Game 1 of the 2018 #NAHL #RobertsonCup as Colby Enns lights the lamp! pic.twitter.com/NP0zQTulBn— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 11, 2018
7:47 Grant Loven from Austin Dollimer and Jake Rosenbaum 3-2 Fairbanks
Loven picked up the puck on the right half boards and cut into the slot. He held the puck and waited for a shooting lane to open to put it past Benson.
8:45 Jax Murray from Kyle Mayhew 4-2 Fairbanks
Murray out-raced a Minot defender after Mayhew cleared the puck down the ice from his own zone. Murray got the puck and fired a high shot for the goal.
18:50 Nolan Schaeffer unassisted (empty net) 5-2 Fairbanks
Schaeffer’s clearing attempt bounced off the boards and slid all the way down into the empty net.