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Wilderness get sweep with bolstered special teams


January 21, 2022

“Good special teams play” is a phrase that hasn’t been attached to the Minnesota Wilderness very much this season. The club entered its game Saturday vs. the Minnesota Magicians in the bottom 10 of the NAHL’s power-play and penalty kill statistics.

But things were different Saturday night.

The Wilderness went two for three with the man advantage and killed all three power-play opportunities for the Magicians to eke out a 5-4 win and sweep a two-game, home-and-home series against their in-state rivals.

Bobby Metz’s goal 7:11 into the third with the extra man ended up being the game winner. The Michigan native darted in from the blue line to pick up a loose puck in front of the Magicians goal and fired it past netminder Henry Levy for his eight goal of the season.

Max Ruoho and Will Persson assisted on the tally, adding to what were terrific numbers for the two Junior A veterans. Ruoho’s two assists Saturday resulted in five helpers on the weekend, while Persson collected a goal and assist, also giving him a 5-point weekend (three goals, two assists).

After a 1-1 tie at the end of the first period (on goals by the Magicians’ Lucas Kanta and the Wilderness’ Max Neill), Persson picked up the team’s first power play marker of the night, ending a drought the Sahara desert would envy. Persson’s goal at 5:06 of the second (also assisted by Ruoho) was the team’s first goal with the extra man in 34 chances, dating back to Dec. 3. That gave the gang from Cloquet a 2-1 lead. It also seemed to lift the entire team, which extended the lead to 3-1 just 1:16 later when Reid Conn fired in his third goal of the season, and second in back-to-back games.

However, the game was far from over.

The Magicians (17-14-4) bounced back with two goals before the middle frame was over, both coming from Connor Mahony, just 2:22 apart to tie the game at 3-3. The situation looked even more dire when consecutive penalties were called on the Wilderness just 30 seconds apart, the second with 6:47 remaining in the period. That led to a two-man advantage for the Magicians for 90 seconds — a team that entered the night with the NAHL’s 11th-best power play.

The Magicians would pressure, but the Wilderness penalty kill held up, thanks in part to goaltender Matthew Smith, making his first start since being acquired by the team earlier this month. Smith finished the game allowing four goals on 26 shots, with some of those four being ones the rookie may want back, but he would not allow the Magicians to retake the lead going into the third.

That led to a tie going into the third. The Wilderness did not disappoint.

Brendan Doyle first found the back of the net at 4:06 with his sixth of the season to make it 4-3, followed by Metz’s goal to regain the two-goal advantage a little over three minutes later.

The Magicians would cut the lead to 1, when Mahony completed a hat trick with 7:08 remaining, but no one else for either team would light the lamp afterward. Smith stopped 10 Magicians shots in the final period, and won his first game with the Wilderness, keeping his Junior A record perfect. Smith is 2-0 in the NAHL after starting the season with Springfield, where he won his only game back in September. He was then sent to Granite City of the NAHL, where he finished with an 11-0 record with the Lumberjacks.

Meanwhile, the Wilderness ended up outshooting the Magicians by a 41-26 count. With the loss, Levy’s record fell to 5-3-1.

The win also marks the first road victory for the Wilderness that ended in regulation time (the team’s four previous road victories ended in overtime or a shootout). It’s also the first series sweep since Nov. 18 and 20, when they swept Chippewa in a home-and-home series. At 35 points, the Wilderness now sit alone in sixth place, 1 point behind Chippewa in fifth and 3 points behind the Magicians in fourth.

The Wilderness will hope for the same results next weekend, in a tangle with the Magicians in a home-and-home series in the same format as this weekend. Friday’s game in Cloquet starts at 7:15 p.m.


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