The Minnesota Wilderness scored 3 times in both the first and second periods and once more in the third, while Matt Smith stopped all 26 shots he faced in a 7-0 shellacking of the Minnesota Magicians Saturday night.
It’s the first NAHL shutout for Smith, who kept his Jr. A record perfect at 4-0 (3-0 since joining the Wilderness earlier this month). The win is the 4th in a row for the Wilderness (19-18-1), all of them against the Magicians (17-16-4), and it moves them ahead of the Magicians into 4th place – the final playoff spot in the Midwest Division.
The Wilderness began the offensive onslaught just 79 seconds into the first period. Sam Antenucci redirected a shot from the high slot from Cole Crusberg-Roseen that ended up slipping beneath the pads of Magician starting goaltender Vincent Castelletti for Antenucci’s third goal of the season, and first since joining the Wilderness on Jan. 8.
They held the 1-0 lead until Max Neill scored back-to-back goals just 2:03 apart late in the first. Neill’s first tally struck gold on the power play with 4:51 remaining, and he followed that with his 2nd goal of the game with 2:48 left.
A key moment came along early in the 2nd. After failing to score or even mount any pressure on a power-play that began the middle frame, the Wilderness coaching staff called a timeout. Alarmed by some significant short-handed pressure applied by the Magicians, the staff of Head Coach/General Manager Dave Boitz, plus assistants Brendan Phelps and Scott Pionk got the team to settle down and return to the form that gave them a 3-goal lead. It was not long after when Reid Conn would fire one into the back of the Magicians net to make it 4-0.
That fourth goal chased Castelletti out from the Magicians goal in favor of backup Henry Levy, but it made no difference for the Wilderness. They added 2 more late in the second, just 32 seconds apart, from captain Ethan Wolthers and Duluth native Charlie Erickson, to finish the middle stanza up 6-0.
The Wilderness added 1 more in the third with Wolthers’ 2nd goal of the night. Smith held on to preserve the shutout with the Magicians applying their strongest pressure of the game late in the final period. The rookie netminder’s best save came when he denied Connor Mahony on a one-timer with a glove save with 4:59 left, after Mahony received a pass that forced Smith to move quickly from his left to his right.
The Wilderness also had strong performances from Bobby Metz, Niko Rexine, and Will Persson, who each finished with 2 assists.
For the game, the Wilderness outshot the Magicians 45-26.
On the power-play, the Wilderness finished 1 for 5 and kept the Magicians scoreless on 3 chances, although the Magicians managed to keep the Wilderness off the board on a 5-on-3 situation that lasted 1:22 in the 3rd period.
The Wilderness return to the ice next weekend. It will be another home-and-home series, this time against the Chippewa Steel. They go to Chippewa Falls Friday night, while returning home Saturday evening.