Patience paid off for defenseman Lucas Erickson and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Faced with an extended in-season break to rehabilitate an injury, Erickson was able to take his time and fully recover from knee surgery before returning to the ice.
After more than two-and-a-half months between games, Erickson is back at the right moment as the Ice Dogs charge toward the postseason, loaded with a dozen returning players that played in the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup Championship game last season.
Erickson has goals in his last three games, assists in his last five and is the latest selection for NAHL Midwest Division Player of the Week.
Even in the two scoreless games upon his return and before the start of the scoring streak, the 20-year-old from Woodbury, Minnesota, felt like he was ready to go.
“This is a new experience for me,” Erickson said. “It’s my first major injury. I’ve had a few other little bumps and bruises, obviously, playing a game that is tough, but this is the first one where I had to battle back into the lineup.”
It is a lineup that has been effective both with and without Erickson — who is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.
The Ice Dogs had already won two-thirds of their games this season when Erickson returned to start a recent scoring streak that has further separated them from the rest of the division.
Fairbanks has outscored opponents 34-10 in the seven games since Erickson returned. Though less dominant, they had also won the previous three games, including two by a single goal, in what is now a 10-game winning streak.
“The team allowed me to recover,” Erickson said. “They gave me all the way through winter break, so I took a good five to six weeks recovering and got my leg back to 100 percent. So, right out of the gate, I felt pretty good.
“Also, hockey is a game of a lot of momentum and I have a lot of good guys on my team to pass the puck to and get the puck from, so it has been nice.”
The Ice Dogs are 31-9-1-2 to lead the division by 12 points and rank third out of 26 NAHL teams overall.
Erickson received the Player of the Week award after going plus-six with five points in a two-game weekend sweep of the Maine Nordiques. He had the game-winner and two assists Jan. 24 in a 5-2 win, then another goal and two assists in a 6-2 win the next night.
“Lucas was back into form this week after being out,” Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart said, according to a story about the award on the NAHL website. “He gives us more options with our back end and provides leadership.”
Erickson continued his scoring in the first game after the award, getting a goal 36 seconds into Thursday night’s 7-2 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears.
In the game, Erickson extended another streak. He has been on the positive side of the plus-minus statistics for his past dozen games, dating back to October. At plus-22 through 21 games, Erickson is 13th in the league in that category and the only player in the top 20 who has appeared in fewer than 35 games.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.