Wilderness Earn OT Win in Series Opener with Steel

If Gustavs Ozolins was waiting for the perfect time to score his first goal in a Wilderness uniform, he found it, Friday night. The 19-year-old from Riga, Latvia, lit the lamp for the first time this season with 1:20 left in overtime to lead Minnesota to a 4-3 victory over the Chippewa Steel.

Hunter Bulger set up the winning play when he carried the puck into the Steel zone on the right side, skated behind the net and delivered a pass to Ozolins at the left point. Ozolins then weaved his way around defenders to get into the slot and roofed a shot past goaltender Adam Gajan to give the Wlderness their fifth win in their last six games.

The victory allows Minnesota (12-6-2) to claim sole possession of 4th place in the Midwest Division—one point ahead of Chippewa (12-9-1) — as the two teams were tied entering the game.

Joe Cesario earned the second assist on the winning tally, capping off a 3-point night in which he also scored twice.  His first goal gave the Wilderness the first lead of the game while the ice was still fresh.  The rookie banged in a rebound of a Ren Morque shot just 1:17 into the contest.

Cesario’s second goal broke a 2-2 tie that resulted after Gajan over-committed on an attempt to keep Eddie Shepler from scoring. Shepler zoomed through neutral ice for a loose puck that was gliding toward the Chippewa net. Once the puck crossed the Steel blue line, Gajan decided to dart out of his cage when it appeared Shepler was going to reach the puck in time and go one-on-one with the goaltender.  Gajan got to the puck first, but his attempt to clear was deflected by Shepler in the direction of Cesario, who joined the rush on the left side, and crossed the blue line just in time to keep the play on-side. Cesario fired the puck into a wide-open net for his 9th of the season and gave Minnesota 3-2 lead with 11:18 remaining in the 3rd.

The Steel, who dominated the final two periods, outshooting the Wilderness, 31-9, would not give up.  With the goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker, Matthew Brille tied the game for the home team with 2:17 left in the final frame.

It was the 2nd time in the contest Minnesota had given up a lead.  After Gunnar Thoreson scored his 3rd of the season on a beautiful set-up by Severi Sulonen from behind the net late in the 2nd period to give the visitors a 2-0 lead, Chippewa climbed back with red-lighters by Peyton Platter with 2:40 left in the 2nd and Kade Neilson 6:40 into the 3rd.

For the game, Chippewa outshot Minnesota 41-25, but could not mount a sustained attack in the overtime, as the Wilderness finished the extra session with a 4-2 shot advantage.

Minnesota goaltender Isak Posch was relied upon heavily, making 38 saves on 41 shots.  He improved to 8-4-1 with his third straight victory.

The loss dropped Gajan’s record to 6-6-1.

On special teams, only Minnesota was awarded a power-play in the contest, and it failed to convert on its lone extra man situation that occurred late in the 2nd and carried over into the final period.

The Friday win is the first in a trio of games vs. Chippewa.  Game 2 is set for Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Chippewa Falls and will be followed by the series finale Wednesday night in Cloquet.