FAIRBANKS-Going into the last weekend of the regular season against Kenai River at the Dipper the Ice Dogs have done just what any team would want.
Fairbanks won their division title and the all-important NAHL regular season title with a 43-14-1 record-the most wins since 2011 when they won the Robertson Cup.
They'll have home ice throughout the playoffs with the new NAHL playoff format. The Dogs also won the ERA Cup over intrastate rival Kenai River in the first half of the season. But the Brown Bears are fighting for the playoffs.
Kenai is a point out of third place and has a two point lead over Coulee Region for the last playoff spot so they can't afford to lose.
Fairbanks is looking to build momentum going into the post season but Kenai's been an annoying little brother. The Ice Dogs are 8-2 in their last 10 games. Those two losses were to Kenai who won their last meeting 4-2.
The teams are too familiar with each other. Head Coach Geoff Beauparlant was an Ice Dogs assistant last year. Both teams traded defenseman with Ben Campbell going to Kenai and Jake Bushey coming over to Fairbanks. Colton Wolter's twin brother Jacob is a Brown Bear as well.
Head Coach Trevor Stewart hopes his team plays with an edge against a team that will be playing for something.
"They have a heightened sense of urgency we found out last week that they're a tough team to play against. We kind of knew that but that kind of reinforced what we've already known so I'm sure this weekend should be good competitive hockey games," Stewart said.
"I mean it's definitely something we anticipated doing and we worked hard to do it and its huge going into the playoffs giving us that home ice advantage throughout-as far as we make it through playoffs," defenseman Derrick Rose sadi. "It's been a grind. It's a tough season to play in but ending on Kenai I think that's one of the best notes you could end it on is a good rivalry."
"It feels like everybody has more to give so like we're not done," first year player Viktor Liljegren said. Liljegren is from Sweden and he is in his first year with the Ice Dogs. The 6'3" 195 pound forward from Stockholm has 44 points this season.
"We want the Robby Cup (Robertson Cup) and you know we got to start with playing with Kenai this weekend. Nothing new there we know the team and we know what we're going to do and at the end it's just going to come down to hard work," Liljegren said.