Despite a dominant second period, the Minnesota Wilderness could not overcome a first period deficit, and fell to the Anchorage Wolverines Friday night in Game 4 of the Midwest Division Finals, 5-1. The win clinched the best-of-five series for Anchorage by a 3-games-to-one count, and ends the 2021-22 season for the Wilderness.
Anchorage opened the scoring with a rebound goal from Jackson Reineke at 6:01 of the opening period. That was followed by a power-play goal from Colton Friesen less than 2 minutes later to make it 2-0.
The Wilderness came to life minutes later when they managed to kill off a 1-minute Wolverine two-man advantage. Minnesota managed to outshoot Anchorage 12-10 in the opening period, and followed that with a 14-6 shot advantage in the 2nd. Yet, Anchorage held onto its 2-goal lead through the first 40 minutes.
It appeared the Wilderness made it 2-1 when Ethan Wolthers managed to get a shot past Wolverine netminder Raythan Robbins with 15 seconds left in the 2nd. Yet, the officials waved off the goal due to the Anchorage net being dislodged.
It was eerily reminiscent of Game 3, when Wolthers had a goal in the second overtime waved off due to an offside call. Anchorage ended up winning that contest later in the 2nd OT period, 4-3.
Minnesota did get a goal to count early in the third. After receiving the puck from Niko Rexine, Will Persson entered the Anchorage zone on the left side, swooped in toward the net and jammed the puck past Robbins to officially make the score 2-1 53 seconds into the frame.
However, that momentum could not be sustained. Anchorage answered just 3 minutes later on a shot from Andy Ramsey. They then made it 4-1 when Bohdan Panasenko slipped the puck past the outstretched leg of Wilderness goaltender Konrad Kausch which also dislodged the net. Yet, the officials decided to allow this goal, which made the score 4-1.
A valiant effort by the Wilderness saw them again outshoot Anchorage in the final frame, 14-8, and finish the game with 40-24 shot advantage, but they would not get any closer. Anchorage completed the scoring with an empty net goal, and the 2nd tally of the game from Friesen, with 5:12 left in the 3rd.
The Wolverines finished the game with seven power-play chances and converted on one. Minnesota ended up 0-for-2 with the man-advantage.
Kausch took the loss for Minnesota with 19 saves on 24 shots. The veteran from Duluth started in place of the injured Matt Smith, and finished the playoffs with an 0-2 record. For Anchorage, Robbins improved his post-season mark to 6-1, making 39 saves on 40 shots.
The Wilderness also played without its top regular season goal scorer. Max Neill, who put up 21 goals while playing all 60 games in the regular docket, was kept out due to an injury suffered early in Game 3.
The loss mars the end of the Junior A careers for Wilderness forwards Neill, Persson, Sam Antenucci, Kullan Daikawa, and Ethan Wolthers, along with defensemen Bobby Metz and Max Ruoho.
The win allows Anchorage to continue its first season in the NAHL as Midwest Division champions, and will play next weekend in the “Fogerty Four”—the league semi-finals at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, MN. The 3rd round of the playoffs will be a best two-out-of-three format, with Game 1 set for Friday, March 20. The tournament will wrap up Tuesday, March 24, with a single-game Final round.