Wilderness backed into a corner - again


May 13, 2022

The road to the Robertson Cup for the Minnesota Wilderness has been bumpy.

A week ago the Wilderness fought out of a two-game deficit to eventually eliminate Fairbanks, setting up a second series with another Alaskan team, the Anchorage Wolverines. That meant another trip to Alaska that resulted in the Wilderness coming home Monday down two games to one in the best-of-five series.

In Friday’s 4-1 loss to the Wolverines, the Wilderness opened with a strong first period in which they outshot their opponent 17-10, but the game was still scoreless after the opening stanza.

With just 48 seconds remaining in the second period, the Wolverines took a 1-0 lead, but the Wilderness got a goal with just four seconds remaining in the period from Cole Crusberg-Roseen that tied the game at 1-1.

Midway through the third period, the Wolverines popped in back-to-back goals to go ahead 3-1 and eventually tacked on an empty net goal with four seconds remaining to ice the game and grab a 1-0 series lead.

“We didn’t quite look like ourselves,” said coach Dave Boitz after the loss. “It is a game we could have won, but then we gave up two shorthanded goals late in the game, and that was enough for the loss.”

Saturday night the Wilderness trounced the Wolverines 7-2 by scoring three goals in both the second and third periods to salt the game away.

Crusberg-Roseen scored the lone first-period goal for the Wilderness for a 1-0 lead. In the second period, it was goals by Ethan Wolthers, Max Ruoho and Bryce Howard as Minnesota went up 4-1. The third period the Wilderness picked up goals from William Persson, Jared Mangan and another from Howard.

“I definitely felt we looked more like ourselves,” Boitz said. “We had a lot of good scoring chances and our guys had their legs.”

Sunday night the Wolverines gained the upper hand in the series by picking up a 4-3 double-overtime victory with Colton Friesen scoring 12:54 into the second overtime to give Anchorage a 2-1 lead in the series.

In the first period the Wolverines scored just 1:21 into the game, but the Wilderness evened things at the 11:03 mark on a goal by Mangan.

Cole Gordon gave the Wilderness a 2-1 lead just 46 seconds into the second period, but before the period ended the Wolverines scored a pair of goals at 6:48 and 18:31 to go ahead 3-2.

Mangan notched his second goal of the game at the 2:08 mark of the third period, tying the game at 3-3. That’s how regulation ended before Friesen scored the game winner in the second overtime.

“We scored what would have been the game-winning goal in overtime, but the referee blew it down offside and he was deep in the zone while the linesman was right on the blue line,” said a frustrated Boitz. “That was a tough loss to take, because not only did we have what we thought was a game-winning goal, but our goalie got hit and had to leave the game.”

That goalie was Matt Smith, who has been the top goalie in the NAHL since Christmas. Konrad Kausch came in to finish the game and played well, but it is uncertain if Smith will be able to return this weekend when the teams come back to Cloquet. That would be a devastating loss.

The five-game series will resume in Cloquet Friday night with the Wilderness in a must-win situation like they were just a week ago against Fairbanks.

Boitz likes his team’s chances.

“We haven’t had a home game yet in this series,” said Boitz. “We will be back home and I like our chances. I think our team will be refreshed and ready to go.”

Friday’s game, and Saturday’s game if necessary, will both take place at Northwoods Credit Union Arena with the puck drop set for 7:15.


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