Brink of elimination
Slow start costs Minotauros Game 1 of the Robertson Cup semifinals
BLAINE, Minn. – Three first period goals and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs have taken a stranglehold on a three-game North American Hockey League (NAHL) Robertson Cup semifinal series against the Minot Minotauros.
The top-seeded Ice Dogs seized Game 1, 5-2, over the No. 4-seeded Minotauros Friday evening at the Fogerty Ice Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
“You spot a team like that three goals in the first period, it’s hard to come back from,” Minotauros coach Marty Murray said. “But, I thought we had a pretty good last 40 minutes… (Fairbanks) looked human the last 40 minutes and we were able to create a little more. I thought it was a pretty even game after (the first period).”
The Minotauros dug themselves into a hole too big to get out of while gunning for their sixth straight postseason victory.
“We came out pretty flat and they came out flying,” Minotauros captain Alex Adams said. “They were definitely the better team in that period and the scoreboard showed that after 20 minutes.
“We just didn’t show up for our game right away and it cost us.”
Five minutes into the contest, the first two Fairbanks’ goals from Jax Murray and Caleb Hite were separated by 36 seconds. The third tally in the first period came with under two minutes to play by Samuel Ruffin.
All three of the goals came off odd-man rushes.
“We made a couple bad reads in the neutral zone,” Marty Murray said. “We were a step behind on the backcheck (on the third goal) and that kills you. We will have to learn our lesson real quick and be ready to go tomorrow.”
This wasn’t the first time this season that the Ice Dogs had stamped their authority in the first period of a game against the Minotauros. On Feb. 3 in Minot, Fairbanks unloaded for a six-goal opening frame.
So, while allowing three goals was costly, it could have been a whole lot worse, which was pointed out by Minotauros defenseman Colby Enns.
“I don’t think it was the worst possible (first period),” Enns said before referencing what happened earlier in the season. “I think we just have to be better and have a better start tomorrow.”
Enns, a Minot native, got the Minotauros on the scoreboard a minute into the second period. The former offensive-minded defenseman from Minot High School slipped behind the Ice Dogs’ defense and got on the receiving end of a backdoor pass by Ondrej Pavel.
“It was a great play by Miro (Miroslav Mucha),” Enns said. “He passed it back to Pavel and he found me backdoor. I just tapped it into the open net.”
Minotauros goaltender Samu Lonkila was bailed out later in the second period when the Ice Dogs hit back-to-back goal posts in rapid succession on the power play. Lonkila made 17 saves in the defeat, well below his playoff average of 29 saves per contest.
Minot forward Grant Loven made things interesting 7:47 into the third period. After some crisp passing helped the Minotauros break out of their own zone, Loven got the puck and headed up the boards. Cutting inside and deking past a couple defenders, Loven eventually found a shooting lane to snap a shot past Ice Dogs goaltender Josh Benson, and pulled the Minotauros to within a goal at 3-2.
The excitement of a potential comeback, however, was short lived. Fairbanks answered 58 seconds later with Jax Murray scoring his scoring goal of the game and sixth of the postseason.
Nolan Schaeffer added salt to the Minotauros’ wounds when he banked in an end-to-end empty netter that went the full length of the ice to make the Game 1 final score 5-2.
“The season is on the line tomorrow just like it was against Aberdeen,” Marty Murray said. “We got to come out and not only play hard, but play smart. I think we might have been trying to force it a little bit too much, which opened our game up and gave them too many quality scoring chances.”
Puck drop for Game 2 is at 4:30 p.m. this evening at the Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
“This is a resilient group of guys,” Enns said. “I don’t doubt our character or our heart one bit. So, yeah, I think we will be fine.”
Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.