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Wilderness win Showcase opener

Despite a very successful a 2013-14 inaugural season in the North American Hockey League, the Minnesota Wilderness offense averaged less than 3 goals per game—and only once in 60 regular season games did it score more than five goals.   Based on its performance in today’s season opener, it appears the 2014-15 squad could be a bit different.

The Wilderness dominated the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees with a 27-5 advantage in shots on goal in the final two periods en route to a 6-0 victory at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn.

Rookie Tyler Cline led the way with a natural hat trick (three goals scored in succession) while Ryan Anderson notched the shutout in his first regular season start with 15 saves. 

All Wilderness goals were scored in the second and third periods.  The two teams played an almost even first period, with Minnesota outshooting Rio Grande Valley 12-10. 

Head coach Corey Millen says there were several chances for each team in the first period, and he credits his goaltender for making sure momentum did not swing in Rio Grande Valley’s direction.

“Both teams had four or five really good chances”, said Millen.  “You don’t know how that game goes if they score one or two–we definitely had some breaks, and he (Anderson) played well in the first in particular.”

Josh Erickson took the loss in goal for the Killer Bees, stopping 33 of 39 Wilderness shots.

Veteran Brett Heikkila opened the scoring at the 7:08 mark of the middle stanza with an unassisted goal.  The game remained 1-0 before the floodgates opened with Cline’s three goals—the first coming on the power play with 2:10 remaining in the second.  He answered with his second goal with only 17 seconds remaining, and his third—also on the power play–at the 4:37 mark of the final period.

Millen says that’s exactly the kind of offense they were seeking when they signed Cline.  The Blaine High School product is set to play his college hockey at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

“He’s a talented young kid; he’s always been able to play well offensively, and today he played well.”

The Wilderness closed out the scoring with two goals less than two minutes apart late in the third period—both from first year players.  Aaron Miller’s goal came with 3:10 remaining, while Isak Bergland made it 6-0 with 1:25 remaining.    

Miller also added an assist on Cline’s third goal.  Others with helpers were Ivan Chukarov, Jack Forbort, Dan Litchke, Michael Covach, Nick Hedemyr and Tyler Hart.

While Millen is happy with the offensive output from his team today, he says there is plenty of room for improvement.  He says it may be a bit early to say this team is going to be an offensive juggernaut.

“We have some team speed and we have guys who can make plays, and once we start doing that we play well, but there are moments and some times when we get sloppy.”

As an example, Millen cites situations when the team missed a few good scoring opportunities.

“In the second and third periods there was a lot of chances; I think we had somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven breakaways and we didn’t score on any of `em.”

Millen was also pleased with his team’s special teams play.  The Wilderness were successful on 2-of-6 power plays, and kept Rio Grande Valley scoreless on five chances with the man-advantage.

The win allows Minnesota to open the season 1-0 for the second straight year.  They continue showcase play Thursday evening versus Corpus Christi with a game scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. CST.