The Fairbanks Ice Dogs followed up the best record in the North American Hockey League regular season by capturing the Robertson Cup as NAHL playoff and USA Hockey Tier II junior national champions.
Fairbanks took advantage of earning the home ice for every game of the last two rounds by sweeping the Austin Bruins in the championship series. The Ice Dogs won 5-4 in overtime Friday night then finished off the Bruins with a 6-2 victory Saturday.
Fairbanks goalie Kevin Aldridge was named the Robertson Cup Playoffs Most Valuable Player after he made 31 saves Friday and 19 Saturday. Aldridge finished the playoffs 10-4 with a 1.86 goals-against average and three shutouts.
Colton Wolter scored two goals in the clinching game for Fairbanks, one to break a 1-1 tie early in the second period and another for a 5-1 lead in the third. Viktor Liljegren also scored two goals while Jacob Getz added a goal and two assists.
Tayler Munson had two goals in Game 1 for the Ice Dogs, including the overtime game-winner.
Drew Anderson had a goal and three assists for Austin. Teammate Jay Dickman had two goals and an assist in Game 1 and added a goal and an assist in the second game.
The title was the second in the last four years for the Ice Dogs.
CLARK CUP: Joe Sullivan’s goal 6:49 into the second overtime Saturday night lifted the Indiana Ice over the host Waterloo Black Hawks 3-2 and evened the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup Final at one game apiece.
The best-of-five series, which continues Friday and Saturday in Indiana, determines the USHL postseason and USA Hockey Tier I junior national championships
Waterloo won the series opener 4-2 Friday, when goalie Cal Petersen made 32 saves. Tyler Sheehy and Hayden Shaw each had a goal and an assist for the Black Hawks in the win.
The teams traded four special teams goals Saturday. Waterloo took a 2-1 lead when John Wiitala scored a short-handed goal 39 seconds into the third period. Indiana’s Mitch Hults tied the game on the same power play less than a minute later.
NAHL STARS: The NAHL named league, division and rookie all-star teams based on voting by the league’s head coaches.
The all-NAHL team included two Topeka RoadRunners players: forward Tyler Poulsen and goalie P.J. Bridges. The rest of the team was Kenai River Brown Bears forward Alec Butcher, Amarillo Bulls forward Mike Davis, Bismarck Bobcats defenseman Nate Repensky, and Aberdeen Wings defenseman Jake Horton.
Repensky and Horton were also on the Central Division all-star team with two Austin players: Dickman, a forward, and goalie Nick Lehr. Bismarck forward Stanislav Dzakhov and Aberdeen Wings forward T.J. Roo also made the team.
Butcher made the Midwest Division team with goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo and defenseman Terry Leabo of the Minnesota Wilderness, forward Tyler Munson and defenseman Nick Hinz of Fairbanks, and forward Parker Tuomie of the Wenatchee Wild.
Topeka’s Poulsen and Bridges were on the South team with Amarillo Bulls forwards Mike Davis and Tyler Gernhofer, as well as defensemen Dylan Abood from the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, and Sam Piazza from the Wichita Falls Wildcats.
The North Division team featured Port Huron Fighting Falcons forward Bryan Yim and defenseman Jonathan Kopacka, Janesville Jets forward Robin Hoglund, Michigan Warriors forward Colin Larkin, Johnstown Tomahawks defenseman Mitch Hall, and Springfield Jr. Blues goalie Stefanos Lekkas.
Aberdeen’s Roo was also on the all-rookie team with Wenatchee forward Parker Tuomie, defenseman Matt Nuttle and goalie Chase Perry; Austin forward Guillaume Leclerc; and Fairbanks defenseman Wyatt Ege.
COACHING CHANGE: John LaFontaine, who led Shattuck-St. Mary’s to a Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I 14-and-Under national championship this spring, has been named as coach of the NAHL’s Wichita Falls Wildcats.
LaFontaine coached the Bozeman Icedogs in the America West Hockey League and NAHL from 2000-07.
Two other NAHL teams announced new head coaches. Tom Upton is the new coach and general manager of the Minnesota Magicians, who just completed their first season, and Jon Rogger was named coach of the Amarillo Bulls.
Upton was assistant coach of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders during the 2013-14 season.
Rogger moves to Amarillo from the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, where he was coach for two seasons. He replaces Dennis Williams, who is becoming coach of the Bloomington Thunder, a USHL expansion team.
COLLEGE COMMITMENTS: Aberdeen defenseman Dillon Eichstadt has committed to play at Bemidji State University. Eichstadt had four goals and 31 assists in 51 games last season. The 20-year-old is returning to his hometown in Minnesota to start his college career.
Danny Fetzer, a forward with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, has committed to Minnesota State University-Mankato. Fetzer, a 21-year-old from Chicago, had 23 points in 55 games is his second season in the league.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.