Wilderness Must Win Twice to Keep Season Alive

Who:  Minnesota Wilderness vs. Anchorage Wolverines

When: Friday, May 13, 7:15 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 14, 7:15 p.m. CDT (if necessary)  

Where:  Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet, MN 

The lead:  The Minnesota Wilderness will seek to win its final home games of the playoffs this weekend, beginning with Game 4 of the Midwest Division Final, Friday night vs. the Anchorage Wolverines.  Anchorage leads the best-of-five series 2-games-to-one; therefore, the Wilderness must win Friday to force a Game 5 Saturday.

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)

Last weekend (all games in Anchorage):  Game 1:  Anchorage 4, Wilderness 1; Game 2:  Wilderness 7, Anchorage 2, Game 3: Anchorage 4, Wilderness 3 (2OT).  

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.

Injury Report:  The Wilderness lost forward Max Neill and goaltender Matt Smith due to injuries in Game 3.  Neill is not expected to return in the Midwest Division Final, while Smith is questionable as of the release of these notes.  

Meanwhile, Minnesota this weekend will regain Aaron Pionk to its lineup.  The 2nd-year defenseman has missed all of the team’s seven playoff games, along with the final 9 regular season games due to an injury suffered March 18 at Kenai River.  Pionk is committed to play NCAA Division 1 hockey at Minnesota State; in 51 regular season games for the Wilderness, he generated 9 goals and 19 assists for 28 points.  

PK Swings:   After keeping opponents off the scoreboard in four straight playoff games, the Wilderness penalty kill has allowed three opponent man-advantage goals over the last two games.  Anchorage broke through with its first power play marker of the Midwest Division Finals with a goal with 6:34 left in the 3rd period of Game 2.  They then went on to score two more in Game 3, to finish the first three games scoring three times in its last seven chances.  On the flip side, the Minnesota PK seemed to return to form late in Game 3, as they denied Anchorage with power plays granted in the 3rd period and 2nd overtime. 

Formidable Home Opponent:  In order for the Wilderness to advance to the NAHL semi-finals at the “Fogerty Four” next weekend in Blaine, MN, they will have to do so by beating a team that took two of three against them at Northwoods Credit Union Arena during the regular season.  Anchorage holds the distinction of being the only Wilderness opponent to win the 2021-22 regular season series in Cloquet.  The Wolverines won the first two contests in its only to trip to Cloquet, a 3-game series Dec. 17-19, by scores of 3-1 and 6-2, before the Wilderness took the finale, 2-1.

Playoff OT Winless Streak:  After dropping Game 3’s double overtime contest, the Wilderness have now been on the losing side of their last five post-season games that have gone into overtime.  The previous three contests in the streak were in the 2017 playoffs, when they fell to Brookings in Game 2 of the Central Division Semi-final, 4-3, then two more times to Aberdeen in the division finals, 4-3 in double OT in Game 1, and then 1-0 in a single overtime in Game 5.   The franchise’s last OT victory came on May 6, 2016, when it beat Fairbanks 2-1 in double OT of Game 3 of the Midwest Division Final.  

More Hits from CCR:  Cole Crusberg-Roseen continues to re-write the Wilderness record book.  His red-lighter with 3:07 left in the first period of Game 2 established him as the Wilderness franchise’s most prolific post-season goal scoring defenseman in team history.  That goal, which was the first of seven on the night for Minnesota, set a new single-playoff season record, previously held by Louis Roehl, and broke the previous career playoff mark of two, that was shared by Roehl, Tristan Rostagno, Tyler Vold and Janis Jaks.  During the regular season, the 2nd year Jr. veteran scored 20 goals over 60 games—tying the team’s career record and setting a new single-season mark for D-men.

Offensive output:   Game 2’s 7-2 victory was Minnesota’s highest scoring playoff game and biggest margin of victory in a single game since the team’s Robertson Cup championship season of 2015.  That year, the team won two games 9-1 vs. the Coulee Region Chill in the Midwest Division Semi-final.  

Ruoho Rolls to End Goal Drought:  Despite putting up 42 regular season points, Max Ruoho’s specialty has been helping others score goals, rather than lighting the lamp on his own.  Ruoho finished the regular docket with just one goal—which came on Sept. 25 vs. Kenai River.  57 games later (including 7 in the post-season), the Verona, WI, native ended his goal drought, and finally scored 11:52 into the 2nd period, to help the Wilderness in their 7-2 win over Anchorage.  Ruoho also added two assists in the game to lead Minnesota with three points. 

Mangan the Man: After finishing the regular season at almost a point-per-game pace, Jared Mangan has been even better in the post-season.  The rookie from Charleston, SC, leads all Wilderness scorers in all primary offensive categories with four goals, five assists and nine points over eight games.  Mangan has registered at least one point in all but one playoff game, and has five points (3 goals/2 assists) through three games in the division finals. 

Anchorage, eh?: Two Canadians grace the roster of the Wolverines in these playoffs, and both have notched arguably the two biggest goals in the franchise’s short history.  Colton Friesen, from Winnipeg, MB, and Matt Johnson, from Calgary, AB, are responsible for the team’s two overtime game-winners in the 2022 playoffs.  Friesen scored the game-winner in Game 3 vs. the Wilderness, while Johnson posted his in Game 3 of Round 1 vs. Springfield.  Johnson also scored the game-winner in the opening game of the division final series vs. Minnesota.