Smith Shutout Leads Wilderness to Series Win in Anchorage

In a game which did not at all match the magical scenery of the state it was played in, the Minnesota Wilderness grinded out a tough 2-0 road victory Saturday over the Anchorage Wolverines.  Matt Smith earned the shutout, his 3rd of the season, with 29 saves in a game that seemed to have about as many penalties as Alaska has polar bears.

Both teams were held scoreless through the game’s first 55 minutes. And it was not like they did not have chances. The two teams combined for 68 minutes worth of penalties, 42 for the Wilderness, and 26 for Anchorage.  The Wilderness (27-21-1) finished the game scoreless on five power play chances, but also denied Anchorage (25-17-6) on 11 situations with the man-advantage.

Smith was stellar in improving his NAHL record to 9-1 (and his overall Jr. A record to 20-1).  Anchorage’s best chance came on a power play in the second period.  Cameron Morris was ready to score the game’s first goal on a back-door play from the bottom of the face-off circle to Smith’s left.  But the rookie netminder read the play with perfect timing and managed to slide from his right to his left to deny Morris and keep the game at a scoreless tie.

The Wilderness also had numerous chances throughout the game to go up 1-0, but were repeatedly snuffed by Anchorage backstopper Raythan Robbins.  Minnesota finally broke the stalemate with 4:14 left in regulation time.  Cole Crusberg-Roseen launched a slapshot from the high slot that blistered past Robbins to give the Wilderness the game’s first lead.  It’s the 18th goal of the season for the 2nd year Jr. A veteran, which ties a Wilderness record for single-season goals by a defenseman, set last season by Grant Docter.

It took only 14 seconds for the Wilderness to double their lead.  That was when Max Neill redirected Alex Pineau’s shot from the right point for Neill’s 16th marker on the season.  To have a multi-goal lead marked a remarkable turn of events, and allowed the Wilderness to concentrate on preventing an Anchorage comeback.

The Wolverines would still get some additional help from the officials in their comeback attempt.  The Wilderness were whistled with two more penalties in the final minutes (Anchorage also had one more), but even with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, the Wolverines would not beat Smith.

It’s the first time Anchorage, an expansion team in its first season in the NAHL, was shutout on home ice.  It’s also Robbins first loss vs. Minnesota, after beating the Wilderness in his first three starts, including Friday night’s 4-1 Anchorage win.  He finished the night with 26 saves, and saw his season record fall to 16-5-5.

With the victory, the Wilderness took two of the three games in the weekend series, and concludes the overall season series with each team winning 3 games.   It also moves Minnesota back within one point of the Wolverines for 4th place in the Midwest Division, and two behind Janesville in 3rd place.  Only 4 teams in each division can qualify for the NAHL playoffs.

The win is Minnesota’s 27th on the season, the most since 2017-18, when the team finished with 33 victories.  The team has 11 games left on the schedule to improve that win total, with the next 3 slated for next weekend in Soldotna, AK.  That series vs. the Kenai River Brown Bears is set to begin Thursday night.