Who: Minnesota Wilderness at Kenai River Brown Bears
When: Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. AK time
Where: Soldotna Sports Center; Soldotna, AK
The lead: Wilderness Aim to Maintain Playoff Push at Kenai
Records: Wilderness: 27-21-1; Kenai River: 13-33-5
NAHL Midwest Division standings:
Last weekend: The Wilderness won 2 of 3 in a series at Anchorage. Minnesota opened with 3-1 win, Thursday, Anchorage then took game 2, Friday, 4-1, while the Wilderness concluded the series winning 2-0 Saturday.
Kenai River split a weekend home series with Fairbanks. The Brown Bears won Friday’s game 5-2, while the Ice Dogs skated away with a 4-1 win Saturday.
Season series: This weekend will be the first time the Wilderness and Brown Bears have met since Sept. 24-25. The Wilderness swept the 2-game series in Cloquet by scores of 5-2 and 8-4.
Minnesota “Milestoners”: The Wilderness have five players who have either reached or are approaching significant milestones in their Jr. hockey careers.
- On Thursday, forward Gunnar Thoreson skated in his 100th regular season game at the jr. level. When you include playoff games, Thoreson has played in a total of 103 in his career, which has been spent only with the Wilderness.
- Forward Sam Antenucci reached the 100 NAHL game plateau Thursday. His time in the NAHL includes games with the Lone Star Brahmas and Brookings Blizzard. He also played 84 games over two seasons in the USHL.
- Defenseman Max Ruoho is approaching the 150-game mark for his Jr. A career. In the NAHL, Ruoho has played a combined 90 with the Wilderness and Austin Bruins and 58 games in the OJHL with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres.
- Forward Max Neill recently surpassed 200 games in his Jr. A career. He already reached the century mark in one league and is close to repeating that feat in the NAHL. Neill played 106 games through two seasons with Steinbach of the MJHL, and is now 2 games away from hitting the 100-game mark in the NAHL. Neill spent the 2020-21 season with the Johnstown Tomahawks, playing 49 games, before coming to the Wilderness this season.
- Earlier this season, defenseman Bobby Metz reached 100 games, and has now played in 112 while in his 2nd season of Jr. hockey.
- Stingy PK: One big factor in the Wilderness success last weekend was the work of its penalty kill. Minnesota denied Anchorage on 18 of its 19 power play situations through the three contests. That includes tying a team single game record of killing 11 power plays in last Saturday’s 2-0 victory.
CCR Cruisin: Defenseman Cole Crusberg-Roseen has goals in the 3 of his last 4 games, and his last could be considered one of the biggest of this season. Crusberg-Roseen hit the back of the net with 4:14 left in the 3rd last Saturday, and that broke a 0-0 tie with Anchorage, and ended up as the game-winner in the 2-0 win. It’s also his 18th of the season which broke a team record for regular season goals by a defenseman. The Stratham, NH, native also finds himself zeroing in on the team’s career record for d-man goals. Ondrej Trejbal, who currently plays with St. Cloud State, holds that mark with 20.
Smitty Seals the Net: After suffering his first loss in Jr. A Friday night, goaltender Matt Smith responded with a stellar performance Saturday. The Fenton, MO, native stopped all 29 Anchorage shots for his 3rd NAHL shutout, and improved his record to 20-1. Smith started all 3 games last weekend for Minnesota, making 80 saves on 85 shots.
Brown Bear notes: A mid-season coaching change put a man with Northland ties at Kenai River’s helm. Taylor Shaw is a UMD graduate who spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Proctor HS before moving onto the Jr. A ranks. Shaw was an assistant to Dan Stauber from the 2015-16 to the 2017-18 seasons. Shaw has been the Brown Bears interim head coach after the team parted ways with former head coach Josh Dubinsky on Nov. 22. Since Shaw took over, Kenai River has record of 9-15-5.