Alaska is known for its vast resources that have been the source of wealth for many who dared to tap into them. Count the Minnesota Wilderness as one group who could reap big dividends from their latest visit to the 49th state.
A 3-1 win Saturday night clinched a 3-game sweep for the Wilderness (30-21-1) in their series versus the Kenai River Brown Bears (13-36-5), and completed their journey to the 49th state with a 5-1 record.
It also marked the end of a span of nine games away from home, of which the Wilderness won seven.
Barrett Hall led the way Saturday night, with a goal and an assist, while Matt Smith shined again in net, making 29 saves.
All of the game’s scoring occurred in the third period. Smith and his Kenai goaltending counterpart Levi Gho were exceptional for the first two periods—with Smith stopping all 18 shots faced, and Gho perfect on 26.
An early third period Minnesota goal broke a 0-0 tie, on a tremendous 2-way effort by Jared Mangan. It started when Mangan blocked a shot from Kenai’s Caleb Huffman in the Wilderness zone and then took off on a breakaway which finished by beating Gho on his stick side. The unassisted goal at 1:04 was Mangan’s 4th of the season.
The Wilderness would make it 2-0 when Rexine and Hall would combine to help set up Max Neill on a power play tally at the 5:47 mark. After getting a pass from Rexine, Hall skated near the Kenai goal’s left post and managed to pull Gho out of position, which led to Neill positioned in front of a wide open net. Hall sent the puck behind Gho for Neill to punch in for his 18th of the season.
Kenai would get one back when Ryan Finch converted on a centering pass with 9:16 remaining.
Hall would later complete the scoring with an empty-net goal. The tally was set up after Rexine forced a turnover in the Brown Bear end and delivered a pass that Hall one-timed into the Kenai net for his 4th goal of his rookie campaign.
Rexine’s two assists completed a 5-point weekend, and move him back on top of the Wilderness scoring chart. With 53 points, he sits just one point ahead of Gunnar Thoreson.
The success on this road trip propelled the Wilderness to take sole possession of third place in the NAHL’s Midwest Division. It also sets up a showdown scheduled for next weekend with the team right behind them in 4th place. Just two points separate Minnesota and the Janesville Jets, with games between the two set for March 25th and 26th at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.