If the old adage that defense wins championships, the Minnesota Wilderness are setting themselves for some good things for their final 20 games of the 2021-22 NAHL season.
The Wilderness posted their second shutout of the last 3 games Saturday night, with a 2-0 win over the Chippewa Steel. The win completed a sweep of the 2-game home-and-home series, in which the Wilderness (21-18-1) took the opening game in Chippewa Falls, 5-1. It also follows the 7-0 win Jan. 22 over the Minnesota Magicians. It’s also Minnesota’s sixth straight and allowed them to finish the month of January with a 7-1 record.
Konrad Kausch kept the door closed against the Steel (17-20-2). The Duluth native made 24 saves, 12 coming in the final period for his first NAHL shutout. He was also in net for Friday’s win, stopping 28 of 29 shots. Matt Smith picked up the win in the shutout against the Magicians on Jan. 22.
His biggest saves came when he denied two point-blank chances just seconds apart from Steel forward Ryan Waltman with about 5:30 remaining directly off of a face-off in the Wilderness zone. Kausch fought off both shots, and earned his 3rd consecutive victory, improving his record to 5-3 on the season.
Offensively, the Wilderness capitalized on a power-play about midway through the 2nd period. After Max Ruoho carried the puck into the Chippewa zone, he dropped a pass to Gunnar Thoreson, who fired a quick shot that Steel goaltender Croix Kochendorfer kicked directly to Bobby Metz. Metz then whipped the rebound upstairs past Kochendorfer’s glove to make it 1-0. It’s the 9th goal of the season for the Bloomfield Hills, MI, native, and 2nd game-winner.
The Wilderness would add one more on an empty-net goal from Nicholas Rexine with 42 seconds remaining in the 3rd.
Also contributing was the Wilderness penalty kill. Minnesota kept Chippewa off the scoreboard on all 3 of their chances with the man-advantage. In the weekend series, the Steel ended 0-for-8 on the power-play. Since the 2nd half of the season began on 12/19/21, the Wilderness are 33 for 36 in not allowing opponents to score with the man-advantage.
Kochendorfer finished the game with 33 saves on 34 shots, as the Wilderness outshot Chippewa 35-24.
The Wilderness will go on a brief sabbatical before their next game. They’ll be off next weekend and prepare for a home game coming Feb. 12 versus the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.