Who: Minnesota Wilderness vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
When: 12/3 and 12/4/2021, 7:30 p.m. both nights
Where: Red Baron Arena, Marshall, MN
The lead: The Wilderness and Ice Dogs meet for the 1st time as division rivals since the 2016 Midwest Division Finals. In the Wilderness’ first foray in the Midwest Division, the two teams met 4 times each season from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and two of those seasons led to the teams meeting in the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs. Minnesota beat the Ice Dogs in the Midwest Division Final 3 games to none in 2015, and the Ice Dogs returned the favor the next season, beating the Wilderness 3 games to 2. The winners of both of those playoff rounds went on to win Robertson Cup championships.
Records: Wilderness: 13-10-1; Ice Dogs: 16-8-1
NAHL Midwest Division standings:
Previous weekend: The Wilderness fell twice to the Chippewa Steel; first in Chippewa Falls, WI, Friday, Nov. 26, 7-5, and in Cloquet Saturday, Nov. 27, 6-1. Fairbanks won a pair at home vs. Anchorage, 4-2 and 9-3.
Offense sputters: The one goal scored Saturday ties the Wilderness’ lowest offensive output for this season, and marks the first time the team failed to score more than once since Sept 17. Despite that, the team sits 3rd in the NAHL with 93 goals scored, behind only Fairbanks and the New Jersey Titans who are tied at 100 red lighters.
Gunnar is still smokin’: Gunnar Thoreson scored the lone Wilderness goal Saturday, extending his point streak to 5. The Andover, MN, native is now tied with Ethan Wolthers for the team lead in points with 28 and now has 10 points in his last 8 games (4 goals/6 assists).
Ruoho is still rollin: Max Ruoho continues his strong offensive play from the blue line. Ruoho assisted on Thoreson’s goal Saturday and now has assists in his last 3. The Verona, WI, native leads all Wilderness defensemen with 18 helpers on the season.
New Netminder: After completing a trade with the Lone Star Brahmas, the Wilderness have a permanent third goaltender on its roster. Graham Burke is in his 2nd season of Jr. A hockey, after a stellar rookie campaign in Lone Star. In 2020-21, the Wilmington, DE, native finished 2nd in the NAHL in wins with 23 and 4th in GAA at 2.19.
Why Marshall? This weekend’s games are considered home games for Fairbanks. The Ice Dogs played 17 of their 24 home games in Marshall during the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions in Fairbanks, AK. The games this weekend are a thank you from the Ice Dogs to the city of Marshall and its fans for the hospitality the city displayed hosting the team earlier in the pandemic.