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Wilderness drop pair to Wisconsin, out of first

Fresh off a series of roster moves aimed at bolstering the team for its stretch run, the Minnesota Wilderness promptly laid an egg last weekend in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The team dropped a pair of games to the Wisconsin Windigo, allowing the home team to leapfrog Minnesota atop the Midwest Division of the North American Hockey League.

Minnesota (23-14-7) is tied with Fairbanks (24-17-5) at 53 points in second place in the division. Wisconsin (26-15-3) now leads with 55 points.

The Wilderness failed to protect a three-goal lead Saturday, falling 6-5 in overtime. It was the second time the Wilderness couldn’t hold such a lead in the last three games. Minnesota also fell to Wisconsin, 3-0, on Feb. 17, in the Friday series opener.

In that game, goaltender Max Beckford denied Hunter Bulger’s point-blank second-period chance with a glove save in shutting out the Wilderness on 20 saves.

Minnesota held 3-0 and 4-1 leads the next night before the Windigo took control, a team news release said.

Gunnar Thoreson had a goal and an assist for Minnesota, which also got a score from Kevin Marx Norén, his team leading 22nd. Four consecutive Windigo goals followed in the third period. Minnesota’s Isak Posch made 26 saves, denying an overtime breakaway in the process. Both teams took 32 shots in the wild affair.

Minnesota returns home this weekend for a two-game set in Cloquet at Northwoods Credit Union Arena versus the last-place Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues. Game times are 7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Jr. Blues (20-22-1) are eighth in the Midwest with 41 points, but own the stingiest defense, allowing a division-fewest 110 goals. Their 101 goals scored is a league-worst tally. Minnesota owns 121 goals scored while allowing 117 on the season, making it one of the top defensive teams while also lacking the firepower of the higher-scoring programs, such as the teams ahead of them in Wisconsin (146 goals scored) and Fairbanks (145).

That disparity had to be some of the thinking when Wilderness general manager Dave Boitz and head coach Brett Skinner orchestrated a series moves to acquire four league veterans, all proven scorers, at this month’s transaction deadline.

Minnesota has 16 games remaining until the start of playoffs in mid-April.