Power play propels Wilderness
December 2, 2022
The Minnesota Wilderness needed to fight back both nights last weekend, and they completed a home sweep of the Janesville Jets and solidified their spot near the top of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division standings.
The Wilderness (15-7-1) won by twin scores of 4-3, converting six power play goals in 11 chances over the weekend, while the team's penalty kill held Janesville to 1 of 8 on the power play.
On Friday night, the Wilderness struggled in the first period with a ferocious forecheck by the Jets. Minnesota found itself in a 2-0 hole.
"They are a heavy forechecking type of team and we struggled with it in the first period," said first-year coach Brett Skinner. "After the first period we had to make some tactical adjustments and then they took a penalty early in the second period and we got a power play goal to get our offense going."
A tripping penalty against Janesville early in the second period helped turn the tide. Minnesota's Gunnar Thoreson slammed home a power play goal 3 minutes, 12 seconds into the second period, with assists to Donovan O'Neil and Ren Morque, to cut the lead to 2-1. The Wilderness added another power play goal several minutes later from Gustav Ozolins, with assists to Michael Quinn and Hunter Bulger, which tied the score at 2-2.
"Once we started getting past their forecheck, we were able to gain the offensive zone and that created the penalties," Skinner said.
Kevin Marx Noren gave the Wilderness their first lead of the game, 3-2, 7:39 into the third period. He later broke a 3-all tie with the game-winner coming just 2:07 remaining in regulation.
"It was a good hockey game," Skinner said.
Goalie Konrad Kausch was able to slam the door during a final flurry, making 24 saves on 27 shots.
Saturday's game started much the same, with Janesville grabbing an early 2-0 lead.
"They got up 2-0 again, but I thought we were playing much better; we just had a couple of first-period breakdowns," Skinner said. "At the end of the first period they took a penalty and we took advantage of it to get us going."
Trailing 2-0, Charlie Erickson ripped home a power play goal late in the first period on assists from Ozolins and Quinn. Just 30 seconds after Erickson's goal, Adam Johnson scored the tying goal with assists going to O'Neil and Morque.
There was no second-period scoring, but in the third period things heated up as Quinn scored just 6 seconds into a power play from Erickson and Joe Cesario, giving the Wilderness a 3-2 edge.
The Jets (12-8-2) answered midway through the third period to send the game to overtime.
Neither team could score in overtime, which sent the game to a shootout, with each team getting three shots to try and score a goal.
Wilderness goalie Isak Posch stopped all three shots he faced and Marx Noren scored for the Wilderness on their second shot, giving them the win. Minnesota outshot Janesville 41-30.
"Marx Noren had a good solid weekend for us," Skinner said. "I like the way we are playing as a team right now, and we will need to be good because our division is tough from top to bottom."
A 20-year-old league rookie from Knivsta, Sweden, Marx Noren was acquired in a trade early in the season and has provided offensive spark during the early going with a team-leading 11 goals. Morque, a defenseman, leads the team with 20 points, including 18 assists. The long season concludes in April.
Currently, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (15-9-3) lead the Midwest Division with 33 points, with the Wilderness just a point behind. However, the Wilderness have played three fewer games than the Ice Dogs.
The Kenai River Brown Bears sit in third with 31 points, but have played one more game than has the Wilderness.
"It is a long and tough season," said Skinner, who played his college hockey at the University of Denver. "There are no easy nights in our league."
The Wilderness return to action on Friday, Dec. 2, when they host the St. Cloud Norsemen for a 7:15 p.m. tilt at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. The teams resume a home-and-home the next night in St. Cloud.
Also last week, the Wilderness beat the Chippewa Steel, 2-1, in a shootout on Wednesday, Nov. 23 in Cloquet.