By Patrick Garriepy
With 12 games remaining in the regular season and a playoff spot still within reach, the Northeast Generals set off on their longest road trip of the season as they departed Attleboro and headed far west to Alaska for the first of two weekends in the last frontier.
Sitting seven points out of a playoff spot, the Generals faced off for two games against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Fairbanks entered the weekend as the overwhelming Midwest division leaders and one of the top teams in the NAHL.
While the Generals opened up the weekend as underdogs in enemy territory, their play throughout the weekend suggested otherwise. Late on Friday night, both teams found themselves deadlocked in a scoreless battle as the clock ticked down in the second period. With ten seconds remaining, Liam McCanney broke into the offensive zone behind the Fairbanks defense and fired home a wrist shot past netminder Mattias Sholl for the 1-0 lead.
Joey Stanizzi played one of his best games as a General, making a number of saves that either kept the game scoreless or maintained the Generals one-goal advantage. It wasn’t until 4:11 remained in the game when Fairbanks finally broke through on the strength of Emil Gabrielson’s tenth goal of the season and evened the score. Regulation would end with the score at 1-1 and the shots at 28-26 in favor of the Ice Dogs. Unfortunately for the Generals, Cam Gaudette received a late boarding penalty, opening up the door for the Ice Dogs to cap their comeback on the night. Sure enough, Dylan Abbott was able to find Tyler Deweese for a back-door strike, giving Fairbanks a dramatic 2-1 victory. Stanizzi stopped 31 shots in defeat as the Generals failed to register a shot in the overtime period.
With the previous night now in the rearview mirror, the Generals returned to the Big Dipper Ice Arena with the confidence they could hang with one of the NAHL’s top dogs in their home rink. Joey Stanizzi returned to the net for Northeast, while Jack Caruso got the call for Fairbanks in game 2. Just a little over four minutes into the opening period, Ricky Boysen emerged from a puck-battle in the corner of the offensive zone and fired home a backhand strike, once more giving the Generals the early lead. The Ice Dogs, however, found their equalizer just five minutes later on the strength of Matt Koethe’s 21st goal.
The 1-1 deadlock lasted until the midway point of the third period when Ricky Boysen hit Kyle Schroeder with a perfect cross-ice pass in the offensive zone. Schroeder showed patience as he waited for Dogs’ netminder Caruso to commit to his first move, before switching to the backhand and shoveling home the go-ahead goal with 10:05 in the third period.
The big blow came as time ticked below 4:30 to go, as Clark Kerner absorbed a check in the neutral zone and delivered a pass ahead to Tyler Cooper in a one-on-one offensive zone matchup. Upon receiving the pass, Cooper quickly pivoted and located a wide-open Ethan Destefani entering the zone. Destefani, with plenty of time and space, made no mistake in firing home a wrist shot for a two-goal advantage. Less than a minute after, Mason Plante’s 12th goal of the season brought the Ice Dogs back within a goal as Fairbanks prepared for their final push, but this would be as close as they would get. Gerard Marretta’s empty netter sealed the deal for the Generals as they finished off a big win. Joey Stanizzi finished the game with 30 saves in the victory, while Jack Caruso stopped 22 shots for Fairbanks.
With three points captured during the weekend, the Generals were able to draw back within 4 points of the final playoff spot, currently being occupied by the Maryland Black Bears. Northeast still possesses two games in hand on their east division rivals with 10 games remaining in the regular season. Next, the Generals continue their Alaska road trip and head south to take on the Kenai River Brown Bears in another two-game weekend set, starting Friday night at 11:30 EDT.
Gerard Marretta currently leads the Generals with 18 goals on the season and has 32 points overall in 50 games. Last season, Marretta scored 2 goals and 8 assists in 32 games.
After five games without a point, Ryan Kuzmich notched two assists on Saturday night.
Ethan Destefani, Ricky Boysen, Liam McCanney, Ryan Kuzmich and Dylan Schuett led Generals’ weekend scorers with 2 points each.
Kyle Schroeder has tallied 3 goals in the last 5 games, after scoring 2 in his first 50 games.