Two third period goals were enough for Kevin Marx Norén to make history and seal the deal in a 6-3 Minnesota Wilderness win over the Chippewa Steel Saturday night.
Marx Norén came into the game needing to score only once to become Minnesota’s all-time leading single-season goal scorer, after tying the team record of 31 Friday night. After being denied through the first two frames, the forward from Knivsta, Sweden, finally broke through with 5:48 left in the game. Marx Norén’s redirection of a Beau Janzig shot gave the Wilderness a 5-3 lead and made him the franchise’s most prolific single-season goal scorer.
The original goal record of 31 was set by Darian Romanko in 2014-15.
Marx Norén added one more as time expired with an empty-net tally, although the puck never made it into the net. A goal was awarded because Chippewa’s Sam Frandina threw his stick to keep the puck from entering the cage. Throwing the stick is a penalty, and when it is done to keep the puck from entering an empty net, it automatically results in a goal being awarded.
That leaves Marx Norén with a season total of 34 goals—33 with the Wilderness (35-18-7). Those 34 red-lighters also made history as they moved him into a tie for the NAHL’s overall goal scoring lead, allowing the veteran to earn a share of the title of being the league’s goal scoring champion (which is also a first for the Wilderness franchise).
Marx Norén also contributed with an assist for a three-point game. Minnesota also had two points from Gunnar Thoreson and Max Wattvil, who each had one goal and one assist, while Sawyer Scholl, Michael Quinn, and Beau Janzig all finished with two assists. Single goals came from Ashton Dahms and Brian Lonergan, and a single assist went to Reid Daavettila.
Nick Ericson earned his fourth win of the season in goal, stopping 29 of 32 Chippewa shots.
The first period turned out to be guided by momentum swings as the Wilderness built a 2-goal lead only to see it evaporate thanks to two quick Steel tallies.
Dahms opened the scoring with his first junior A goal. The rookie from Lakeville, MN, may have scored the franchise’s first ever torso goal when he redirected a shot from Janzig into the net with his stomach. Daavettila also earned a helper on the red-lighter which came 5:40 after the opening puck drop.
Thoreson lit the lamp on a power play to make it 2-0 with 5:56 left in the opening frame. The veteran from Andover, MN, fired in his 12th of the season from the bottom of the right circle with assists from Scholl and Quinn.
That seemed to wake up the Steel (31-25-4) as they battled back with markers from Joe Kelly and Aidan Willis that were just 2:03 apart. The 2-2 score remained through the end of the first stanza.
The Wilderness then rebuilt its two-goal advantage when Lonergan and Wattvil found the back of the net within the first four minutes of the second period. Lonergan, from Montvale, NJ, deposited his fourth of the season when he converted on a 2-on-1, assisted by Marx Norén and Scholl. That goal, just 1:19 into the middle frame, put Lonergan in the record book as he tied the franchise mark for single-season goals by a rookie defenseman.
Wattvil’s goal ended up as the game-winner when he scored the team’s second man-advantage tally of the night. The veteran defenseman was set up by Quinn and Thoreson when he fired in his 2nd of the season from the high slot at the 3:50 mark.
Sam Scheetz added one more for the Steel at the 5:24 mark, and that would complete its scoring for the night.
The Wilderness penalty kill played a huge part in contributing to the victory, as it snuffed out five Chippewa chances on the power play. The Steel’s biggest chance came 8:01 into the third period when a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for facemask was assessed on Minnesota’s Evan Pahos. But Chippewa could only muster two shots on goal for a missed opportunity.
Regarding penalties, Cole Gordon added to the list of records broken, as he set a new franchise mark for career regular season penalty minutes. Gordon’s four PIMs gives him 243 in his Wilderness tenure, slipping past the old mark of 242 set by Andrew Troy (from 2017-2019).
Minnesota finished with the edge in shots on goal by a 33-32 count. In his first NAHL start, Bridger Fixmer took the loss for Chippewa making 27 saves on 32 shots.
Up next for both teams will be the first round of Robertson Cup playoffs. The Wilderness enters the Midwest Division semi-final as the #2 seed, while Chippewa has earned the #4 seed. That means the Wilderness will take on the #3 seed Kenai River Brown Bears, and Chippewa will meet the #1 seed Wisconsin Windigo.
Both series begin next weekend. Game 1 for Minnesota and Kenai River begins at 7:15 p.m. April 21 at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.