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Fairbanks Ice Dogs at Chippewa Steel 12-29-18

Chippewa's Jacob Dirks (16) skates past two Fairbanks players on Dec. 29, 2018 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

As Chippewa begins the second half of its North American Hockey League schedule the Steel are in need of a spark to springboard the team to a strong close to the season.

A successful trip to Alaska for a five-game slate could be just what the team needs as the Steel still sit at the bottom of the Midwest Division at 9-23-1-1.

On Friday and Saturday Chippewa has a weekend series against the Kenai River Brown Bears and then the team will spend the week in Alaska to face the Fairbanks Ice Dogs for three games in three days beginning on Jan. 17.

“It’s a good trip for the guys to go on and I know they are excited to hit the road with everybody for a week and a half,” Steel interim coach Carter Foguth said. “As far as playing those two teams, we’ve played them before so there is no surprises. As far as preparation wise for us the biggest thing is Kenai is one of the teams we’re chasing, so we’re trying to catch them in the standings so we know it’s an important weekend and when we go to Fairbanks we know they’re a good team.”

This will be Chippewa’s second of two trips this season to Alaska as the Steel dropped all four games during their travel to “ The Last Frontier” in October in the midst of what became a 13-game losing streak.

Foguth feels the group is better prepared for the long trip up north and to handled the week of practice away from the daily routine the team has grown accustomed to throughout the season.

“With all the travel, the flight, the busing out there, it’s a long trip to get out there,” Foguth said. “So the biggest thing is getting through that travel day and once we get into Thursday, Friday just getting ready to go for the weekend.

“The hardest thing is the down time. Once we get out there and those days where all we’re doing is going to the rink and practicing and then the time before practice and after practice we’re just at the hotel, so there is a lot of sitting around.”

The contests are more than a chance to open the second half of the season on the right note, it’s an opportunity to close the gap against teams Chippewa trails in the standings.

With 28 points in the standings, Kenai River (12-17-2-2) holds an eight-point advantage over the Steel. Chippewa swept the Brown Bears in a weekend series at Chippewa Area Ice Arena on Dec. 14-15 to even the season series at two games apiece.

“We’ve played them (Kenai River and Fairbanks) a few times now, so there is no surprises as far as what’s coming our way,” Foguth said. “We just have to make sure we’re physically and mentally ready to go.”

Fairbanks is tied for second in the Midwest Division with 41 points (18-11-3-2) and after Chippewa won the first two games of its season against the Ice Dogs, Fairbanks won three games in a row in the series before the Steel earned a 4-1 victory on Dec. 29 in their final game for the midseason break.

Foguth felt the team’s response to a 6-0 loss to Fairbanks on Dec. 28 was a positive step the team took into its break. While the first half of the season had more downs than ups, Foguth has been impressed with team’s consistent effort.

“I was very impressed with how they bounced back. Obviously Friday night was a tough one,” Foguth said of the team’s 6-0 loss to the Ice Dogs. “They could have easily just folded in and just got ready for break but they showed up Saturday night and found a way to get it done. I was very impressed with how they handled themselves on Saturday night.”

Foguth is looking for more consistent play in all areas for his young team as the second half gets underway on Friday. He said that starts with the guys understanding the work they must put in daily in practice and workouts to prepare for each weekend of games.

The trip to Alaska will provide the first opportunity for the players to show that they are showing the progress needed to be more competitive the rest of the way this season.

“I think the biggest thing is getting off to a good start,” Foguth said. “Starting Friday night from the drop of the puck making sure we’re ready to go and from then on controlling what we can control and going out there and making sure we’re playing the best that we can and we’ll see what happens from there.”

“I think the biggest thing is getting off to a good start. Starting Friday night from the drop of the puck making sure we’re ready to go and from then on controlling what we can control and going out there and making sure we’re playing the best that we can and we’ll see what happens from there.” Carter Foguth, interim coach

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Chippewa Herald sports reporter

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