Strong Special Teams Push Wilderness Past Magicians; Sweep Series

“Good special teams play” is not a phrase that has been attached to the Minnesota Wilderness very much this season.  The club entered its game Saturday versus the Minnesota Magicians in the bottom 10 of the NAHL’s power-play and penalty kill statistics.

But things were different Saturday night.

The Wilderness went 2 for 3 with the man-advantage and killed all 3 power-play opportunities for the Magicians to eke out a 5-4 win and sweep a 2-game, home-and-home series against their in-state rivals.

Bobby Metz’s goal 7:11 into the 3rd with the extra man ended up being the game-winner.  The Bloomfield Hills, MI, native darted in from the blue line to pick up a loose puck in front of the Magicians’ goal, and fired it past netminder Henry Levy for his 8th goal of the season.

Max Ruoho and Will Persson assisted on the tally, adding to what were terrific numbers for the two Jr. A veterans.  Ruoho’s two assists Saturday resulted in five helpers on the weekend, while Persson collected a goal and assist, also giving him a 5-point weekend (3 goals, 2 assists).

After a 1-1 tie at the end of the first period (on goals by the Magicians’ Lucas Kanta and the Wilderness’ Max Neill), Persson picked up the team’s first power-play marker of the night, which ended a drought that the Sahara desert would envy.  Persson’s goal at 5:06 of the 2nd (also assisted by Ruoho) was the team’s first goal with the extra man in 34 chances, dating back to December 3.  That gave the gang from Cloquet a 2-1 lead, and it seemed to lift the entire team, as it managed to extend their lead to 3-1 just 1:16 later when Reid Conn fired in his 3rd goal of the season, and 2nd in back-to-back games.

However, the game was far from over.

The Magicians (17-14-4) would bounce back with 2 goals before the middle frame was over, both coming from the same player.  Connor Mahony scored back-to-back goals just 2:22 apart to re-tie the game at 3.  And the situation looked even more dire when consecutive penalties were called on the Wilderness (17-18-1) just 30 seconds apart, the 2nd infraction called with 6:47 remaining in the period.  That led to a 1:30 2-man advantage for the Magicians—a team that entered the night with the NAHL’s 11th best power-play.

The Magicians would pressure, but the Wilderness penalty kill held up, thanks in part to goaltender Matthew Smith, making his first start since being acquired by the team earlier this month. Smith would finish the game allowing 4 goals on 26 shots, with some of the those 4 being ones the rookie may want back, but he would not allow the Magicians to re-take the lead going into the 3rd.

That led to a tie going into the 3rd, and despite coughing up a 2-goal lead, the Wilderness had to feel good.  That’s because going into the night, the Wilderness had a 9-1 record when tied after 2 periods.  And they did not disappoint.

Brendan Doyle first found the back of the net at 4:06 with his 6th of the season to make it 4-3, and that was followed by Metz’s goal to regain the 2-goal advantage a little over 3 minutes later.

The Magicians would cut the lead to 1, when Mahony completed the hat trick with 7:08 remaining, but no one else for either team would the light the lamp afterward.  Smith would stop 10 Magicians shots in the final period, and win his first game with the Wilderness, keeping his Jr. A record perfect.  Smith is 2-0 in the NAHL after starting the season with Springfield where he won his only game back in September.  He was then sent to Granite City of the NA3HL, where he finished with an 11-0 record with the Lumberjacks.

Meanwhile the Wilderness ended up outshooting the Magicians by a 41-26 count.  With the loss, Levy’s record fell to 5-3-1.

The win also marks the first road victory for the Wilderness that ended in regulation time (the team’s 4 previous road victories ended in overtime or a shootout).  It’s also the first series sweep since Nov. 18 and 20th, when they swept Chippewa in home-and-home series.  At 35 points, the Wilderness now sit alone in 6th place, 1 point behind Chippewa in 5th and 3 points behind the Magicians in 4th.

The Wilderness will hope for the same results next weekend, as they and the Magicians will tangle in another home-and-home series in the same format as this weekend.  Friday night’s game will be in Cloquet at Northwoods Credit Union Arena at 7:15p.m., and Saturday night’s game in Richfield is set for 7p.m.