The opener in a 3-game series between the Minnesota Wilderness and Anchorage Wolverines could be described in a way that matches the terrain of the state of Alaska: rugged.
In the end, it turned out well for the Wilderness, who posted a 3-1 victory for their 4th win in their last 5 games, and 11th in their last 13. The penalty-filled affair resulted in a combined 36 minutes of infractions with 22 minutes whistled in the 3rd period.
A 2nd period goal from Jared Mangan ended up as the game-winner, which put the Wilderness up 2-0 at the time. After receiving a Niko Rexine centering pass, Mangan fired the puck in for his 3rd goal of the season. The marker came moments after the Wilderness killed an Anchorage power-play and weathered a furious Wolverine assault in which they outshot Minnesota 13-6 in the middle frame.
Matt Smith picked up his 8th win of the season as the rookie continues to re-write the Wilderness franchise mark for best season start by a goaltender and maintained his unbeaten record since moving up to the Jr. A ranks. Of his 25 saves, Smith’s most impressive came in period 1. With the Wilderness up 1-0, Smith appeared to be beaten by Anchorage’s Talon Sigurdson, who came into the game tied for the league lead in goals at 34. As he maneuvered the puck directly in front of the Wilderness net toward the right circle, Smith was low to the ice, and Sigurdson shot high, but Smith inconceivably managed to snag the puck out of mid-air by reaching straight up with his glove.
That was part of a fast-paced opening period in which the Wilderness controlled most of the play and thoroughly tested Anchorage goalie Shane Soderwall. Minnesota managed to get an early lead when a shot from the right point from Cole Crusberg-Roseen sailed into the net at the 4:29 mark. Ethan Wolthers and Sam Antenucci assisted on the goal, which was Crusberg-Roseen’s 17th on the season.
The Wilderness ultimately outshot Anchorage in the first period, 14-8. For the game, the two teams each finished with 26 shots.
Minnesota extended its lead to 3-0 thanks to a 5-on-3 power play goal from Will Persson with 8:59 left in the 3rd. The native of Sweden drilled in a one-timer from the right face-off circle after receiving a pass from Max Ruoho. It was Persson’s team-leading 19th goal of the season, and 10th with the man-advantage.
Anchorage would find the back of the net to make the ending interesting thanks to Bohdan Panasenko’s 7th of the season with 5:52 remaining. Despite a late power-play opportunity in the final minute, they would not get any closer.
Minnesota kept Anchorage scoreless on all 3 of its power-play situations, while the Wilderness finished 1 for 4.
The win makes game 2 of the series extremely crucial regarding the Midwest Division playoff race. Only one point now separates the two teams in the division standings with Anchorage occupying the 4th and final playoff spot, and Minnesota sitting in 5th in the 8-team division. 3rd place Janesville also factors into the race, as the Jets are only one point ahead of Anchorage and two points above the Wilderness. The 2nd game between Minnesota and Anchorage is scheduled for Friday night at 7:00 p.m., Alaska time.