The Minnesota Wilderness outshot and throughout many stages outplayed the St. Cloud Norsemen Friday night, but fell for the first time since Jan. 8, 5-2.
It’s the 13th straight victory for St. Cloud (28-13-1) who were paced with 2 goals from Nik Hong. The Minneapolis native had both of his tallies in the first period, helping his team build a 3-1 lead.
After Duke Kiffin scored to give the Norsemen the first lead of the game 4:14 into period 1, Hong fired in a rebound past Wilderness starting netminder Konrad Kausch to make it 2-0 with 8:50 left in the frame. After Kullan Daikawa countered for the Wilderness to make it a one-goal game just 1:17 later, Hong scored what ended up as the game-winner with a 1:00 left in the period. Hunter Hanson assisted on the goal by delivering a pinpoint centering pass from behind the Wilderness net to a wide-open Hong positioned in the slot. Hong scored on a quick snapshot that beat Kausch on his left side.
After Matt Smith entered the game in relief of Kausch, St. Cloud would add to their lead on a controversial goal just 1:47 into the 2nd period. Brandon Lajoie appeared to fire a rebound past Smith that led to the red light igniting, although video review makes it difficult to determine if the puck did indeed go into the net. Nevertheless, the goal counted, and the Norsemen had a 4-1 lead.
Cole Crusberg-Roseen would add one more for Minnesota later in the 2nd for his 15th of the season, but the Wilderness (22-19-1) would not get any closer. Despite outshooting the Norsemen in the final period 14-9, St. Cloud netminder Tomas Bolo shut the door to seal the victory, aided by a Ryan O’Neill marker at the 8:35 mark that made it 5-2. For the game, the Wilderness outshot St. Cloud by a 34-32 count—marking only the 4th time this season the Norsemen did not have the upper hand in shots on goal.
Bolo’s biggest stop came in the 1st period when he denied Wilderness leading scorer Will Persson on a breakaway. Persson broke in on the left side, cut to the front and fired a shot toward Bolo’s left that the young Slovakian snagged with a fantastic glove save. That save kept St. Cloud in front by one and kept the Wilderness from gaining much needed momentum.
The loss snaps Minnesota’s 7-game winning streak. After giving up 3 first period goals, Kausch took the loss in net and saw his record fall to 6-4. Kausch finished the night playing 1 period, stopping 8 of 11 shots, In relief, Smith faced 21 shots making 19 saves over 2 periods.
Bolo’s record improved to 20-6, as he made 32 saves on 34 shots.
The same two teams will battle it out Saturday night in Cloquet. It will be the final home game for the Wilderness until March 25th, as Minnesota will embark on a 9-game road swing beginning March 3. Puck drop at Northwoods Credit Union arena is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.