The Minnesota Wilderness were determined to not let history repeat itself. In game 1 of the Midwest Division Final, they let a winnable game slip from their grasp late, when the Anchorage Wolverines scored three times in the third period to win 4-1. It was reminiscent to game 1 of the division semi-final round, when they lost 3-2 in overtime after giving up a 3rd period lead. That was followed by a 7-1 defeat in Game 2, and Minnesota needed to win 3-straight at home the following weekend to advance to the 2nd round.
Game 2 of the division final would not follow the same script.
The Wilderness took command in the first period with a late goal, followed by scoring six times in the final two periods to earn their most lopsided win in the 2022 Robertson Cup playoffs, 7-2.
The win snaps a 5-game road losing streak that dated back to the final two weekends of the regular season, and is the team’s first playoff win away from home since May 5, 2017.
Max Ruoho led the way with a goal and two assists for three points. Bryce Howard added his first two goals of the playoffs, Ethan Wolthers and Jared Mangan had a goal and an assist, while Barrett Hall and Reid Conn each picked up two assists.
Cole Crusberg-Roseen kicked off the scoring with a power-play goal with 3:07 left in the first. The veteran from Stratham, NH, displayed tremendous patience as he controlled the puck in the face-off circle to the right of Anchorage goaltender Raythan Robbins. Crusberg-Roseen appeared to thoroughly study the Anchorage net, before wiring a wrister from the bottom of the circle that beat the goaltender between his stick side and the right post. It was the third goal of the playoffs for the defenseman, and his 2nd in as many games.
That goal was emblematic of an opening period in which Minnesota set a tone by completely outplaying the home team, to the point where the 9-2 shot advantage seemed low. It continued its momentum with a goal early in the second, with Wolthers’ third playoff tally just 29 seconds into the frame.
Anchorage got on the board at 7:32 when a Talon Sigurdson goal signaled the Wolverines may be coming back to life. But, the Wilderness would answer two more times before the 2nd period was over with two players picking up their first playoff goals.
A terrific passing play set up by Wolthers and Sam Antenucci led to Ruoho firing one in on the doorstep just to the right of Sigurdson with 8:08 left in the middle frame. Then, with 1:17 left, Bryce Howard forced a turnover at center ice, skated in all alone and made the score 4-1 with a wrist shot from the slot.
That would be the final goal given up by Robbins. Shane Soderwall entered the Anchorage net at the start of the 3rd period, but that would not deter Minnesota. Surrounding a second Sigurdson goal were three more Minnesota markers. Will Persson posted the team’s second power play goal with 8:25 left on a one-timer from the right circle, and goals by Jared Mangan and Howard’s 2nd goal (just 24 seconds apart with less than 4:00 to play) would complete the scoring at 7-2.
Hampering the Anchorage comeback were a number of penalties in the final period. The two teams combined for 52 minutes of infractions in the third, the most egregious being a 10 minute misconduct assessed for unsportsmanlike conduct on Wolverines defenseman Andy Ramsey.
Goaltender Matt Smith earned his first win of the series and improved his playoff record to 4-3. Robbins suffered his first post-season loss, as his record fell to 4-1. The Wilderness outshot the Wolverines by a count of 27-22.
Saturday’s Minnesota victory means there will be one more game in the Midwest Division Final in Anchorage. Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. AKDT. The series will then move to Cloquet for Game 4 and (if necessary) Game 5 on May 13-14.