Who: Minnesota Wilderness vs. Anchorage Wolverines
When: Friday, Sept. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 1: 7:15 p.m. both nights + Sunday, Oct. 2: 5:15 p.m.
Where: Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet
The lead: The Minnesota Wilderness and Anchorage Wolverines renew acquaintances for the first time since last season’s playoffs.
Media: All of the action can be seen on Hockeytv.com.
Records: Anchorage: 3-3-1; Minnesota 2-3-1
Midwest Division standings
Last weekend: Anchorage took two-of-three at Chippewa, winning 3-2 on Thursday, and 6-3 Saturday, with the Steel prevailing in the Friday contest, 5-2. Minnesota was idle after posting a 2-1-1 record at the NAHL Showcase Sept. 14-17.
Last meeting: Anchorage eliminated the Wilderness in the 2022 Midwest Division Finals in four games. That win propelled the Wolverines to the Robertson Cup semi-finals where they defeated St. Cloud in a 2-out-of-3-game series, 2-games-to-none. They then advanced to the single-game championship round where they fell to New Jersey, 3-0.
Friendly Confines: Minnesota players can get comfy in their own beds and get used to home cooking for the next month, as they will not play a road game until Oct. 29. The 8-game home stand beginning this weekend marks the longest stretch of home games since the Wilderness entered the NAHL in 2013.
Trending Upward: After dropping its first three games of 2022-23 without earning a point, Minnesota has reversed course on its season, gaining at least one point in its last three games. The Wilderness began a 2-0-1 stretch beginning with a 7-3 win over Northeast, followed by 3-2 shootout loss to El Paso and then 2-1 overtime triumph over Bismarck.
The Morque Way: Veteran defenseman Ren Morque has begun the season as one of the NAHL’s top-scoring defensemen. The Grand Rapids-native leads the league with seven assists in his first six games. On top of that, Morque has at least 1 assist in five of his six games, and is on a 3-game assist streak. His biggest helper came at the end of the team’s last outing, when he assisted on Joe Cesario’s overtime game-winner vs. Bismarck Sept. 17 at the NAHL Showcase.
- Minnesota has also seen Adam Johnson take command as one of its early-season standout players. The veteran from Mahtomedi has posted one point in his last four games, and registered his first goal Sept. 17 vs. Bismarck.
- Meanwhile, Cole Gordon finished with a strong showcase. It started with a goal vs. Shreveport in game 1, and then another vs. El Paso in game 3—giving him three goals on the season, equaling his totals for his first two seasons with the Wilderness. He capped off his performance in Blaine with an assist on Cesario’s OT game-winner vs. Bismarck.
- Kevin Marx Noren and Noah Griswold both made themselves at home in the Wilderness lineup very quickly shortly after being acquired in a trade with Fairbanks. Marx Noren set a team record with four goals in a single game, and added an assist, tying the team record of 5 points in a single game, in the 7-3 win over Northeast. He then added an assist in his encore the next day vs. El Paso. Griswold also contributed with a goal in the win over Northeast and is +3 since joining his new team.
Old/New Faces Debut:
- Three players will make their first 2022-23 season appearance on the Wilderness roster this weekend—and one of them will be recognized very quickly by Wilderness fans. Forward Gunnar Thoreson returns to the team after beginning the campaign trying out for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. The native of Andover played all 60 games in 2021-22 and finished second in team scoring with 60 points (18 goals/42 assists). In his first season in 2020-21, Thoreson played 51 games, posting six goals and six assists.
- Hunter Bulger was acquired in a trade with North Iowa. A forward from St. Louis, Bulger is in his 2nd season of Jr. hockey after a 56-game campaign with the North Iowa Bulls in 2021-22 where he posted 16 goals and 9 assists.
- Blake Stafford is another veteran forward the Wilderness brought in. The former Oklahoma Warrior played 26 games in his inaugural season and hails from Sun Prairie, WI.
Special teams notes: For the first time in the 2022-23 season, in its last game, Minnesota went an entire game without scoring a power play goal, but it was not the fault of its power play units. The team never had a chance when it was never awarded a man-advantage situation. Two penalties were called on Bismarck, and in both situations, a penalty was also called on a Wilderness player. For the season, Minnesota has scored five times on 14 power-play chances.
Meanwhile on the penalty kill, Minnesota had a streak of two straight games without an opponent’s power play goal snapped, when Bismarck score on its first chance. For the season, the Wilderness PK has killed 16 of 20 opponent power plays
Anchorage Angle: Kade Shea will return to the Northland for the first time as a Jr. A player. The former Duluth Denfeld Hunter has played in all seven games with the Wolverines, posting 2 goals and 2 assists for 4 points. Shea is in his 2nd season of Jr. hockey after spending 2021-22 with the NAHL’s Austin Bruins and NA3HL’s Rochester Grizzlies.