Who: Janesville Jets at Minnesota Wilderness
When: Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
Where: Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet, MN
The lead: Two hottest teams in Midwest Division collide in Cloquet
Records: Wilderness: 30-21-1; Janesville: 29-21-1
NAHL Midwest Division standings:
Last weekend: The Wilderness swept Kenai River in a 3-game series in Soldotna, AK. Minnesota won games 1 and 3 with identical 3-1 scores, and took game 2, 7-1.
Janesville split a two-game home-and-home series with Chippewa, falling to the Steel in Chippewa Falls Friday, 7-4, and bounced back to beat Chippewa Saturday at home, 5-4.
Season series: Minnesota and Janesville met six times over an 8-week span in October and November, and home teams were the victors in each contest. The Wilderness claimed series sweeps in two weekend matchups in Cloquet in October, while the Jets took both games in the lone series they hosted the Wilderness in November.
Strong Second Half: Both teams have experience tremendous success in the season’s second half. Minnesota’s record since December 19, 2021 is 17-5, while Janesville has built a nearly identical 17-4 mark.
Playoff Implications: Of the 8 games remaining for the Wilderness this season, four will be vs. Janesville. With only 2 points separating the two squads, these games are expected to play a big factor in determining if they can reach the postseason. The top four teams in the Midwest Division will advance to the NAHL playoffs.
Triple Play History: Last weekend’s sweep of Kenai River marked the first time Minnesota swept a 3-game series where each game was on the road. Three-game road series do not happen often for the Wilderness, although they did occur in consecutive weekends, with another that was in Anchorage March 10-12. Prior to this season, Minnesota had played only one 3-game series in another team’s arena, and that was vs. Kenai River in 2013.
Morque Makes Debut: With his high school season ending on March 3, Ren Morque was able to join the Wilderness on their Alaska trip. Morque was a senior this past season with Grand Rapids HS, and impressed in his first few games transitioning to the Jr. level. In his five games, Morque has posted one goal and added two assists. His first goal came March 18 at Kenai River.
Power Play Picks Up: After going scoreless in the first half of the Alaska trip at Anchorage, the Wilderness power play found some success at Kenai River. Minnesota scored with the man advantage at least once in each game vs. the Brown Bears, going 5 for 11, which included going 3-for-3 in the game on March 18. The penalty kill also remained strong, denying Kenai in each of its seven opportunities; and finishing the Alaska trip with a perfect 26-for-26 record in denying opponents on the power play.
They are the champions: Two players who recently celebrated winning state champions with their high schools will be part of the Wilderness roster for the remainder of the season.
- Gavyn Thoreson helped Andover HS capture its first Class AA title in school history on March 12, and is the younger brother of Wilderness forward Gunnar Thoreson. Gavyn is also a forward; the junior led the Huskies with 74 points in 31 games and scored a double overtime game-winner in the tournament quarter-finals.
- Beau Janzig is a defenseman who helped Hermantown take the Class A crown in the state tournament. The senior finished 2nd in scoring among team defensemen with 29 points in 30 games, and has signed a tender to play for the Wilderness during the 2022-23 season.
Smith is a Star: Goaltender Matt Smith earned his first league award for his performance last weekend. Smith was named the Midwest Division Star of the Week after backstopping the Wilderness to victories Thursday and Saturday. The rookie from Fenton, MO, also appeared in Friday’s game for just over a period, relieving a banged-up Konrad Kausch. For the weekend, Smith finished with 63 saves on 65 shots.
Strong D leads to Ws: You could consider Smith to be the anchor of a defense that dominated in its six Alaska games. While in the 49th state, Minnesota allowed only 8 goals, with four coming in one game (vs. Anchorage on March 11).
Jet notes: Janesville has been soaring lately thanks to a potent offense—scoring 50 goals in its last 10 games. A big part of Janesville’s recent red light success comes from forward Cy LeClerc. The 3-year Jr. hockey veteran leads the Jets with 68 points in 51 games, and is currently tied for third in league scoring. His 30 goals and 38 assists also lead his teammates in those stat categories. LeClerc will enter Friday’s game riding an 11-game point streak, in which he has registered 22 points. The native of Brentwood, NH, is committed to play college hockey in his home state, with the University of New Hampshire.