Wilderness Face Uphill Battle in First Round Series

Who:  Minnesota Wilderness vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs

When: Friday, April 29, 7:15 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 30, 7:15 p.m. CDT (if necessary), and Sunday, May 1, 5:30 p.m.  CDT (if necessary)   

Where:  Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet, MN 

The lead:  The Wilderness return home facing playoff elimination.

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):

Team Points Games played
1 x-Fairbanks  77 60
2 x-Springfield 76 60
3 x-Anchorage 74 60
4 x-MN Wilderness 72 60
5 Janesville 69 60
6 MN Magicians 59 60
7 Chippewa 54 60
8 Kenai River 33 60

Other playoff matchup: The #3-seed Anchorage Wolverines swept the other Midwest Division semi-final vs. the #2-seed Springfield Jr. Blues, 3-games-to-none.  Anchorage will take on the winner of the Minnesota/Fairbanks series in the Midwest Division Final.

Last weekend:  In game 1, #4-seed Minnesota had a 2-1 lead until top-seed Fairbanks scored to tie the game with 26 seconds left in regulation. The Ice Dogs went on to win 3-2 on a short-handed goal in overtime.

In game 2, Fairbanks took command in the first period with three power play goals, and followed with four even strength tallies in the 2nd to skate away with a 7-1 victory.

Mangan Holds Team Playoff Scoring Lead:  Jared Mangan continued his strong play from the regular season by posting points in his first two playoff games as a Jr. A hockey player.  Mangan leads the Wilderness in playoff points with 2, both on assists.  The 19-year old from Charleston, SC, won a face-off that resulted in Cole Crusberg-Roseen’s 2nd period goal in game 1, and helped set up Gunnar Thoreson for his goal late in game 3.  When including the regular season, Mangan now has points in seven of his last eight games.

Playoff Scorers:   Will Persson joined Thoreson and Crusberg-Roseen as the Wilderness goal-scorers in the first two games.  Persson was in line to get the game-winner on Friday until Fairbanks tied the game with 26 seconds remaining in the third.  The 5-year junior veteran from Bjorklinge, Sweden, was set up on a 3rd period tally by Niko Rexine and Max Neill.  

Ethan Wolthers, the Road Warrior:  With his assist Saturday night, Ethan Wolthers became the only Wilderness player to generate at least 1 point in each 2021-22 non-NAHL Showcase opponent’s home arena during this past regular season and post-season combined.  Technically, Wolthers had achieved that feat during the regular season; however the Wilderness did not play a game in Fairbanks’ “official” home arena—the Big Dipper Arena in Fairbanks.  When the two teams met during the regular season, the Ice Dogs hosted the Wilderness at the Red Baron Arena in Marshall—a temporary home the team established mostly during 2020-21 due to pandemic-related crowd restrictions in Alaska.

Familiar Situation:  This marks the 6th time in team history the Wilderness has dropped the first two games of a NAHL Robertson Cup playoff series.  Of those previous five occasions, Minnesota has come back to tie and force a 5th game three times, and once came back to win the series.  That comeback victory came in 2015, when the Coulee Region Chill went ahead in the series with a pair of wins in Cloquet, and had a chance to advance to the next round with the next two games at its home arena in La Crosse, WI.  The Wilderness managed to turn things around, winning game 3, 5-4, and the following two games, game 4 in La Crosse, and game 5 in Cloquet, by identical scores of 9-1, and won the series 3-games-to-2.

7 is not heaven:  Saturday’s 7-1 defeat vs. Fairbanks set a franchise record for most goals allowed by a Wilderness team in a playoff game.  Six goals also mark the team’s largest margin of defeat in a post-season contest. 

Playoff Drought:   When it takes to the ice Friday night, Minnesota will look to snap a 6-game playoff losing streak.  The last Wilderness playoff win was a 3-2 victory over Austin on April 20, 2018, in game 3 of the Central Division Semi-Finals.  

Dogs Unleashed:  In its two playoff victories, Fairbanks has executed strong special teams play and goaltending. On the man-advantage, the Ice Dogs have converted 4 of 8 opportunities, including three goals scored in the first period of game 2.  In game 1, Fairbanks also picked up an extra-attacker goal and overtime short-handed tally.  

Meanwhile, in goal, the Ice Dogs have relied on Kayden Hargraves.  The veteran from Denver, CO, has faced 75 shots and made 72 saves in leading Fairbanks to its two victories.