Wilderness and Wolverines to Meet for Midwest Division Crown

Who:  Minnesota Wilderness vs. Anchorage Wolverines

When: Friday, May 6, 7:00 p.m. AKDT, Saturday, May 7, 7:00 p.m. AKDT, and Sunday, May 8, 5:00 p.m.  AKDT (if necessary)   

Where:  Ben Boeke Arena, Anchorage, AK 

The lead:  Round 2 of the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs kick off Friday, as the 4-seed Minnesota Wilderness and 3-seed Anchorage Wolverines meet in the Midwest Division Finals.  The best 3-out-of-5 series begins with at least 2 games in Anchorage.  If the Wilderness win either Friday or Saturday nights, Anchorage will host game 3 on Sunday.  If Anchorage wins at least one of the games at home, Minnesota will get to host at least one game the weekend of May 13-14

Media:  All games can be seen on Hockeytv.com.

Regular Season Records:  Wilderness:  35-23-2 72 points (finished 4th in Midwest Division); Fairbanks: 33-19-8 74 points (finished 3rd in Midwest Division)

Other playoff matchups: In the Central Division, #1-seed St. Cloud Norsemen vs. #3-seed Aberdeen Wings; in the East Division, #1-seed New Jersey Titans vs. #3-seed Jamestown Rebels; in the South Division, #1-seed Lone Star Brahmas vs. #2-seed New Mexico Ice Wolves.  The winners of each division final will meet for the league semi-finals and finals beginning May 20 at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, MN.

How they got here:  After falling behind 2 games to none to Fairbanks in its Midwest Division semi-final, the Wilderness pulled off the rare comeback of winning 3-straight while facing elimination.  The Ice Dogs won the first two contests, 3-2 in overtime, and 7-1, at home on April 22-23.  The Wilderness followed with three straight home wins April 29-30 and May 1, by scores of 4-1, 3-0 and 5-1, to win the series 3-games-to-2.

Anchorage pulled off a road sweep to finish its division semi-final early.  The Wolverines defeated the Springfield Jr. Blues on April 21-22 by scores of 2-1 in both games, and clinched the series with a 4-3 OT win on April 24.

 Streaks Snapped:  With its win in the division semi-final, the Wilderness snapped a streak of four consecutive playoff series defeats, dating back to the Central Division Final in 2017. It’s post-season game win on April 29 snapped a game losing streak that had stretched to six, beginning with Game 4 of the 2018 Central Division Semi-Final vs. Austin.  

Staying Power: After coming back vs. Fairbanks, the Wilderness pulled off its 2nd comeback from an 0-2 playoff series deficit in team history, the first coming in the 2015 Midwest Division semi-final vs. Coulee Region.  It also improved its mark when facing elimination to 12-5.  In Game 5 situations, Minnesota improved its all-time record to 3-3.

Road Losing Woes:   Minnesota will seek to end a post-season road losing streak this weekend, that, after losing its two games at Fairbanks, now sits at 7.  To find the last Wilderness road playoff win, you have to go back to May 5, 2017, when it beat the Aberdeen Wings in Game 3 of the Central Division Final, 4-1.  

USHL Draft Selections:  While preparing for the start of this weekend’s playoff series, eight Wilderness players and one tender for 2022-23 learned they were selected in the USHL’s 2022 Phase II draft.  Below is a chart indicating the players selected:

Round Pick Player Team
1 3 Barrett Hall (F) Green Bay
1 4 Aaron Pionk (D) Waterloo
3 40 Niko Rexine (F) Muskegon
3 41 Cole Crusberg-Roseen (D) Lincoln
4 54 Haden Kruse (F) Tri-City
5 75 Alex Pineau (D) Des Moines
5 76 Payton Nelson (F) (tender) Muskegon
9 136 Ren Morque (D) Sioux City
10 150 Gunnar Thoreson (F) Dubuque

Rexine Named Division’s Top Rookie:  The NAHL announced Wednesday that Wilderness forward Niko Rexine is the 2021-22 Midwest Division rookie of the year.  The Syracuse, NY, native led all league first year players with 61 (17 goals, 44 assist) points in 54 games played.   

Wolthers Ties Playoff SHG Record:  With short-handed goals in back-to-games last weekend, forward Ethan Wolthers has tied the team’s record of shorties in a playoff season.  His two SHGs equal the number scored by Dan Litchke in the 2015 playoffs.

Smith Shutout Makes History:   Goaltender Matt Smith’s 31-save blanking of Fairbanks in Game 4 of the Midwest Division Semi-final was the first playoff shutout for a Wilderness netminder since May 16, 2015.  Brock Kautz was the last goalie to keep the net empty in a playoff game, as he held off Austin 4-0 in game 2 of the Robertson Cup finals—which clinched the 2015 league title for the Wilderness.

Pionk on standby and on watch:  Defenseman Aaron Pionk made this weekend’s trip to Alaska, and has been making tremendous strides in recovering from a lower body injury suffered during the team’s regular season Alaska trip in March.  While coaches are not planning to rush the Hermantown native back into the lineup, it is believed he could be back in game shape before the playoffs are over.  Meanwhile, it was announced today that Pionk has made NHL Central Scouting’s final list of players to watch for the 2022 NHL draft

Top scorers:  The Wilderness top playoff scores include Niko Rexine in points (6), a 2-way tie between Rexine and Gunnar Thoreson in goals (3), and a 5-way tie in assists (3) with Rexine, Ethan Wolthers, Will Persson, Jared Mangan and Sam Antenucci.

Wolverine Widget:   This will be an historic weekend for the Wolverines, as they will get to host a playoff game for the first time in team history.  Anchorage just entered the league as an expansion team this season, and therefore is in its first ever post-season, and could not host a playoff game in its first round series vs. Springfield, due to the fact they sweep the Jr. Blues, with all three games in Springfield.