Who: Minnesota Wilderness vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
When: Friday, April 22, 7:30 p.m. AKDT, Saturday, April 23, 7:30 p.m. AKDT, and (if necessary) Sunday, April 24, 5:00 p.m. AKDT
Where: Big Dipper Ice Arena, Fairbanks, AK
The lead: The 4-seed Wilderness and top-seed Fairbanks open their Midwest Division Semi-final series this weekend.
Media: All games can be seen on Hockeytv.com.
Regular Season Records: Wilderness: 35-23-2; Fairbanks: 37-20-3
Final NAHL Midwest Division standings (x=clinched playoffs):
Other playoff matchup: The winner of the Wilderness/Ice Dogs series will take on the winner of the series between the 2-seed Springfield and 3-seed Anchorage.
Last weekend: Minnesota split a two-game series vs. Chippewa, falling Friday in Chippewa Falls, WI, 7-2, and then taking game 2 in Cloquet, 2-1 in overtime.
Fairbanks was idle. Its final regular season weekend was April 7-8, when it split a pair of home games vs. Anchorage. Both final scores were 2-0, with Anchorage winning Friday, and the Ice Dogs winning Saturday.
Season series: Minnesota and Fairbanks played five times during the regular season. The Ice Dogs won the first 3 contests (two in Marshall, MN, and one in Cloquet), while the Wilderness came out on top in the final 2, both in Cloquet.
Mr. Mangan = Mr. Clutch: Jared Mangan has played 20 games since arriving with the Wilderness in February, and he is responsible for the game winning goal in 20% of those games. The Charleston, SC, native’s overtime goal Saturday was his 7th with the team, and 4th GWG, a category in which he finished 2nd on the team to the 5 scored by Will Persson.
Playoff Experience: In addition to the three who return from last season’s squad who played in the 2021 playoffs, the Wilderness have 7 players on its roster with Jr A. level playoff experience. Bobby Metz, Ethan Wolthers, and Gunnar Thoreson all skated for Minnesota in last season’s first round playoff vs. Bismarck. They’re joined by the following who at one time in their Jr. career also skated in the postseason:
- Sam Antenucci, in 2021, 2 games with Omaha of the USHL
- Kullan Daikawa, in 2021, 2 games with Granite City of the NA3HL
- Noah Decker, in 2021, 2 games with El Paso of the NA3HL
- Konrad Kausch, in 2021, 5 games with Bridgewater of the USPHL Premier
- Max Neill, in 2021, 3 games with Johnstown of the NAHL, plus 8 post-season games over 2 seasons with Steinbach of the MJHL
- Will Persson, in 2016, 2 games in Swedish Jr. league
- Max Ruoho, in 2020, 6 games with Buffalo of the OJHL
- Also, prior to coming to the Wilderness, Wolthers also participated in the post-season with Wenatchee of the BCHL in 2020 (5 games) and Cedar Rapids of the USHL in 2019 (6 games).
Scoring Champ: Niko Rexine finished as the 2021-22 season’s team scoring leader, with 61 points in 60 games, which ties the team single season record set by Darian Romanko in 2015, and sets a new rookie record. His 44 assists also ended up as a new single-season record. His 17 goals finished 6th on the team. Rexine also finished the season as the NAHL’s leading rookie scorer. He becomes the first Wilderness first year player to lead the team in scoring since Aaron Myers in 2018-19.
Light the lamp leader: With 21 sent to the back of the net, Max Neill completed the season as the Wilderness’ top goal scorer. The 21 scored is tied for the 5th most in team history, and is the most since Dylan Johnson fired in 24 in 2018-19.
Iron Men: This season’s Wilderness squad tied a team record for most players getting into every regular season game. Three Wilderness players went the entire season without taking a single day off. Cole Crusberg-Roseen, Max Neill and Gunnar Thoreson all saw action in all 60 of the team’s regular season games. The other squad to see a trio get into 60 games was back in the franchise’s NAHL inaugural season of 2013-14.
Dog Bones: It’s not unusual for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs to make the playoffs. The team has never missed the NAHL’s Robertson Cup playoffs since it entered the league in 2003-04, giving it 18 consecutive seasons of post-season play, which is currently the league’s longest streak. What is unusual is for the Ice Dogs to be eliminated in the first round. They did that very thing in the 2021 playoffs when they were swept by the Minnesota Magicians in three straight. That marked the first time since 2007 when a Fairbanks squad failed to win a postseason game.