Throughout the weekend, Kevin Marx Norén had prime scoring opportunities snuffed out by Chippewa Steel goaltender Adam Gajan. This includes a chance with time running out Friday night that would have tied the game and forced overtime. At that moment, Gajan, as he was laying on his stomach, kept the Wilderness leading scorer from lighting the lamp when he used his skate blade to make a save.
Saturday night, with the game tied at 1 after regulation time, five minutes of overtime and one-and-a-half round of a shootout was completed, the forward from Knivsta, Sweden, was summoned to shoot. Marx Norén took the puck at center, casually entered the zone through the middle of the blue line, took a few strides to the right and as he caught the edge of the right circle, studied the net guarded by Gajan. The veteran sniper made a slight head fake to his right that appeared to freeze the rookie netminder and it gave just enough of an opening for Marx Norén to exploit. What followed was a quick wrist shot that darted between the legs of Gajan and into the back of the net.
Shootout advantage: Wilderness.
That left the result up to goaltender Isak Posch. All he needed to do was keep the Steel from tying the shootout and Chippewa sent its leading scorer, Kade Neilsen, to do the job.
Earlier, Neilsen had scored the Steel’s lone regulation time goal, which ended up being controversial. Minnesota had argued the officials should have blown the whistle when Posch had the puck under his glove after containing a shot from Sam Rice. Yet no whistle came, and the Steel managed to free the puck after what the Wilderness described as a series of digs directed at Posch’s glove. Once the puck was loose, it sprung toward the left circle where Neilsen was waiting, and he promptly fired it into the net before Posch could re-position himself. That power play goal at the 6:38 mark of the 3rd tied the game at 1.
The third round in the shootout was Neilsen’s chance to score an undisputed goal. He swiftly took the puck into the zone toward the left circle and confronted Posch who was ready about 1 foot above the crease. Neilsen aimed toward the stick side, but Posch used his blocker to turn it aside.
Wilderness win the shootout, 1-0, and the game, 2-1.
That ended a contest that followed a similar track as game 1 of the series. Like game 1, the Wilderness carried a 1-0 lead into the 3rd period, with one difference being Minnesota scored to take the lead in the 2nd period, as opposed to the first in Friday’s contest.
Oliver Stümpel’s eighth goal of the season gave the Wilderness the game’s first lead with 3:59 left in period 2. After receiving a drop pass from Simon Houge, Stümpel launched a shot from the left point (a similar position to where Bo Cosman scored Friday) to beat Gajan on his glove side. Eddie Shepler also assisted on the tally.
That was followed by the third period Neilsen marker to tie the game, but unlike Friday, the Steel could not muster a go-ahead goal later in the frame.
Chippewa again outshot the Wilderness, this time by a 30-20 margin. Posch earned the win with 29 saves, improving his record to 21-11-6.
On special teams, Minnesota again could not find the back of the net, this time on four chances, while the Steel converted once on three occasions.
This game marked the final time in 2022-23 that the Wilderness (29-16-7) and Chippewa (27-21-3) would meet in Cloquet during the regular season. The two will face each other again on the campaign’s final weekend, April 14-15, in Chippewa Falls.
Next weekend, Janesville will be in Cloquet to take on Minnesota for two contests, March 24-25, at 7:15 p.m.