The Minnesota Wilderness scored early and often Saturday night, snapping the St. Cloud Norsemen’s 13-game winning streak in an 8-0 drubbing.
The win ties the team’s best offensive output for the season and ties a franchise record for its largest margin of victory.
Sam Antenucci led the way with two goals, while Niko Rexine had a 3-point game with a goal and 2 assists. Bobby Metz, Gunnar Thoreson, Max Neill, Jared Mangan each finished the night with one goal and an assist (Mangan’s first goal in Jr. hockey), while Max Ruoho and Kullan Daikawa both had a multi-point game with 2 assists.
The Wilderness also got a single goal from Calvin Knight, his first in his Jr. hockey career, and individual assists from Ethan Wolthers, Charlie Erickson, Severi Sulonen and Aaron Pionk.
Matt Smith earned the win in net with a 17-save shutout.
It was a night where Smith was not tested often, but he did come up big at a key moment in the first period. As the Wilderness (23-19-1) were on their first power-play and leading 1-0, St. Cloud (28-14-1) managed three short-handed opportunities, and Smith stood strong on all three. Those trio of shots were the only shots sent on goal for either team during the 2-minute penalty, as the Norsemen penalty kill kept the Wilderness from getting the puck on net. Yet, Minnesota carried momentum from Smith’s strong play and scored just as the penalty time expired, when Antenucci snuck the puck past St. Cloud goaltender Tomas Bolo from the bottom of the face-off circle to his left, to give the Wilderness a 2-0 lead with 4:43 left in the first.
Minnesota would add to their lead in the 2nd, with 3 more goals, highlighted by the franchise’s first penalty shot marker since 2017. After being hauled down by Ryan O’Neill on a short-handed breakaway, Gunnar Thoreson was awarded the opportunity with 16 seconds left in the frame. Thoreson responded with a beautiful 5-hole tally when he slipped the puck through Bolo’s pads on a backhander for his 12th goal of the season and team-leading 45th point.
That would be the last goal allowed by Bolo, as the Norsemen replaced him with Ethan Dahlmeir for the 3rd period. Despite being up 5-0 going into the final frame, the Wilderness would not let up. Minnesota outshot St. Cloud 14-2 in the 3rd, and added 3 more goals. Knight was the first to beat Dahlmeir when he made a power move toward the net and tucked the puck just between Dahlmeir’s outstretched left leg and the left post to make it 6-0.
Minnesota finished the night outshooting the Norsemen 30-17. It was the 2nd straight game Minnesota outshot St. Cloud (they outshot the Norsemen 34-32 in Friday’s 5-2 loss in St. Cloud), and only the 5th time this season St. Cloud did not finish with the advantage in shots on goal.
The shoutout is Smith’s 2nd of his NAHL season, and 2nd in consecutive starts. The Fenton, MO, native continues a phenomenal pace where he is now 5-0 in his NAHL career (4-0 with the Wilderness), and 16-0 in his Jr. hockey career (he finished his tenure with Granite City of the NA3HL with an 11-0 record and 4 shutouts).
The Wilderness now embark on a 9-game road swing, beginning with three next weekend, one at the Minnesota Magicians on March 3, and two at Springfield, March 4-5. They’ll follow that with 6 games in Alaska, three at Anchorage and then three at Kenai River.
They’ll return home for a series versus Janesville on March 25-26.