Veteran leadershhip lived up to its name for the Minnesota Wilderness on Friday night. Returning players racked up a total of 11 points in Minnesota's 6-2 victory over the Brookings Blizzard in the final pre-season tilt for both teams.
Michael Covach led the way for the Wildernes with one goal and two assists. Meanwhile, Dan Litchke (pictured above) picked up two goals, IVan Chukarov and Jack Forbort eached notched a goal and assist. Billy Exell added one goal and Brett Heikkila had one assist.
Head Coach Corey Millen says there were a lot of things that could have been done better in the game, but overall he was pleased with the effort. "I saw good stuff; obviously, I'm happy we won."
The game, played at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet, was a rematch of a game played last week in Brookings, which the Blizzard won 4-3, despite the fact Minnesota led 2-0 after the first period.
The Wilderness again set the pace with an early lead. Litchke scored his first goal at 4:38 of the first period when he re-directed a shot from Jacke Forbort past Esko native Justin Ketola. Covach then made it 2-0 less than three mintures later on a goal set up bt Heikkila and first year player, Michael Orke. Chukarov added a Southgate Family Pizzeria Power Play goal, assisted by Tyler Cline, at 15:32 mark. Churkarov and Cline would connect again when they set up Forbort for his goal with 1:31 left in the opening period.
But also like last week, Brookings started to wake up in the second period. The Blizzard made it close with two goals just 33 seconds apart. Connor Spetz got Brookings on the board with a shot from the slot at the 5:58 mark, and a Oscar Odd goal just moments later cut the Wilderness lead to 4-2.
That was all Brookings would get as first year netminder Ryan Anderson worked the entire game for the Wilderness, and kept the Blizzard scoreless the rest of the way.
Millen said he entertained the idea of switching to back-up goalie Robbie Goor mid-way through the contest, but decided Anderson needs the work, as he will likely be splitting time through the season with veteran Brock Kautz.
"He needs to get as much time as he can," said Millen.
Lichke also helped the Wilderness regain momentum, with Brookings on the power play, a clearing attempt by Covach sent the puck slowly into the Brookings zone. The slow moving puck drew goaltender Eric Hancock (who replaced Ketola after the first period) several feet away from the net into the hight slot. Litchke was able to win the race to the puck and then easily weave around Hancock before depositing a shot into a wide open net with 1:04 left in the second. Recent acquistion Jesse Norling also assisted on the shorthanded goal.
Litchke's goal marked a solid night for the Wilderness penalty kill, which kept Brookings scoreless on six chances. Minnesota would finish 1-for-6 on the power play.
Covach would later help Exell score his goal at 4:36 of the third period, allowing the Wilderenss to finish the game as it started, with a four goal lead.
Next stop for the Wilderness will be the NAHL Showcase, where they will play for games over four days at the Schwann's Super Rink in Blaine, MN. They open the regular season on Wednesday, September 17th versus the Rio Grand Valley Killer Bees at 10:15 AM. All games can be viewed on www.nahl.fasthockey.com.
The Wilderness open at home on Friday, September 26th and Saturday, September 27th versus the defending NAHL champs, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Tickets can be bought online at www.wildernesshockey.com or at Southgate Family Pizzeria and B&B Market starting on Tuesday, September 22nd. Please call the Wilderness office with any questions at 218-879-0910.