Adam Johnson scored twice, and Konrad Kausch made 31 save to lead the Minnesota Wilderness to a 4-1 triumph over the St. Cloud Norsemen Saturday night. That win, combined with a Fairbanks Ice Dogs loss to the Chippewa Steel, allows Minnesota to claim sole possession of first place in the Midwest Division.
Gunnar Thoreson and Michael Quinn also finished the game with multiple points, with each earning two assists.
Johnson, a veteran forward from Mahtomedi, MN, scored his first goal on a breakaway in the first period. After catching a pass from Donovan O’Neil through traffic at center ice, Johnson took off and, despite defenders hot on his tail, he managed to slip a shot past goaltender Tomas Bolo on the stick side to give the Wilderness a 2-0 lead with 5:38 left in the opening frame. Severi Sulonen also assisted on the tally.
He followed that by stretching the twine with 9:42 left in the second to put the Wilderness in command at 3-0. Johnson recorded his first two-goal game since coming to Cloquet on a rebound of a Thoreson shot. Quinn also gained a helper on Johnson’s fourth of the season.
Kausch faced the bulk of St. Cloud’s chances in the middle frame. The Norsemen, who entered the game having lost three consecutive on home ice, dialed up the intensity and fired 14 shots on the Wilderness net. Kausch was outstanding and held off several point-blank attempts. Jeremiah Konkel was denied on two consecutive shots about 3 minutes into the second and again later in the period. Broten Sabo also could not beat Kausch on a chance where he was all alone in the slot.
St. Cloud would eventually beat the veteran from Duluth on a power-play goal in the 3rd period. Tyler Dysart lit the lamp on a shot that got past Kausch high on the stick side with 10:52 left in regulation.
Another late power play helped the Norsemen apply extra pressure in the game’s closing moments, but the Wilderness would kill off the penalty, and Eddie Shepler ended up closing out the scoring when he fired in his 8th of the year on an empty-net with eight seconds left.
On the power-play, Minnesota finished 1-for-5, bouncing back after Friday night’s performance where it was blanked on seven chances in a 1-0 loss. Joe Cesario scored the game’s first goal on the man-advantage when a Gustavs Ozolins shot deflected off Cesario’s skate and into the back of the St. Cloud net with 10:07 left in the opening period. Quinn also assisted on Cesario’s red-lighter, which was the rookie forward’s 10th of the season.
St. Cloud (9-12-2) ended up winning the shots on goal battle by a 32-27 count. The win is Kausch’s second straight, and it improves his season record to 6-2-1.
Meanwhile, the Wilderness team record of 16-8-2 is good enough for 34 points and puts it on top of its division for the first time this season. Minnesota sits one point ahead of 2nd place Fairbanks, while also having played two fewer games than the Ice Dogs.
The Wilderness will face its first test as division-leaders next weekend, when it continues its road swing with two stops in Wisconsin. It will start Friday night (December 9) with a game in Chippewa Falls to meet the Steel and concludes with a two-game (Saturday/Sunday) set in Janesville.