After losing by 4 Friday night, a tighter defensive effort gave the Minnesota Wilderness a chance to win Saturday night, but it was the Fairbanks Ice Dogs who prevailed with a 3-2 victory and a sweep of the 2-game weekend series.
Minnesota set a tone in the early moments of the game that this night would be different. The Wilderness (0-2-0) scored the game’s first goal and held a lead for the first time this season when Cole Gordon redirected a Ren Morque shot past Fairbanks (2-0-0) goaltender Kayden Hargraves just 1:22 into the first period. Calvin Knight also assisted on the goal which was Gordon’s first of the season.
The Wilderness maintained strong pressure in the offensive zone through most of the opening frame, yet that was not enough to keep Fairbanks off the scoreboard. The Ice Dogs scored twice and took a 2-1 lead into the 2nd thanks to tallies from Julian Recine and Caden Pendo—both scoring for the first time this season.
Minnesota ended up outshooting the Ice Dogs 12-9 for the first 20 minutes, and had en even greater advantage in the 2nd at 13-5. It was some sustained pressure that led to a hooking penalty on Fairbanks forward Tyler Herzberg with 44 seconds left in the middle stanza. On the ensuing power-play the Wilderness pounced. A shot by Joe Cesario that was tipped by a Fairbanks defender slipped through Hargraves’ five-hole and into the back of the net to tie the game at 2. The goal was Cesario’s 2nd of the season (both on the power-play), and was assisted by Morque (his 2nd of the night and 4th of the season) and Michael Quinn.
Yet much like Friday night, the momentum from a late 2nd period goal would again be snuffed out thanks to the Ice Dogs posting a power play tally of their own. Fairbanks took advantage of Minnesota’s first penalty of the night when Brady Welsch registered his first of the season just 1:43 into the final period, which would result in being the game-winner.
For the second straight night, the Wilderness outshot the Ice Dogs, this time by a 36-24 margin. Konrad Kausch, in his first start, took the loss for Minnesota, making 22 saves, with 10 of those being made in the final period, as he helped keep the Wilderness deficit to just one goal.
Kausch was pulled in the final two minutes for an extra attacker, but Hargraves and his teammates held strong in keeping the Wilderness from scoring an equalizer. Hargraves improved his record to 2-0, while Kausch’s record fell to 0-1.
It will be a quick turnaround for Minnesota, as they have only three days to prepare for their next contest. The Wilderness will travel to Blaine, MN, for the NAHL Showcase tournament—an event where all 29 league teams will be participating over four days at the National Sports Center’s Super Rink. The Wilderness will kick off their showcase schedule Wednesday night, when they take on the Shreveport Mudbugs for a game set for 7:15.