Wilderness close in on berth

 

March 31, 2023

Dave Harwig

Kevin Marx Norén shoots Friday during the Minnesota Wilderness hockey game against the Janesville Jets. The WIlderness swept the Jets at home in Cloquet.

The Minnesota Wilderness closed in on a playoff berth last weekend, sweeping Janesville by scores of 3-1 and 1-0 in Cloquet.

The wins put Minnesota's magic number at 3 to clinch a berth in the Robertson Cup playoff. The top four teams from each of the four divisions in the North American Hockey League advance to chase the cup. With 69 points, the Wilderness (31-16-7) sit alone in second place in the Midwest Division with six games remaining. With 71 points, the division-leading Wisconsin Windigo already have secured a playoff berth.

Against Janesville on Saturday, the Wilderness got a shutout from goalie Niklas Erickson, a rookie who turned aside 30 shots in the win. Kevin Marx Norén recorded the game's only goal. The Knivsta, Sweden, forward notched his Wilderness-leading 27th goal of the season on the power play with 2 minutes, 41 seconds left in the first.

On Friday, March 24, Bo Cosman, Brian Lonergan and Sawyer Scholl scored goals, while Isak Posch made 28 saves to lead the 3-1 triumph over the Jets at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

Wilderness came out humming in its series against Janesville. They had 17 first-period shots compared to just six for Janesville. Minnesota finished with 36 shots. The next night belonged to netminder Erickson, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, as Janesville generally outplayed the Wilderness, who managed only 18 shots.

Minnesota extended its streak of scoring the first goal of the game to 11 straight games last weekend, and is 8-2 in its last 10 games.

Minnesota and Janesville shift locations and play in Janesville, Wisconsin this weekend.

The Wilderness would need to collapse in its final six games to miss the playoffs.

Only Kenai River (61), Chippewa (60), and Anchorage (59 points) could still overtake Minnesota and finish in the division's top four. The Wilderness' magic number can be reduced by 2 points for every Wilderness win, or for every Anchorage loss in regulation. It can be reduced by 1 point for every Wilderness or Anchorage overtime/shootout loss.

Minnesota won the Robertson Cup in 2015, and was eliminated from the 2022 Robertson Cup playoffs in the second round by the Anchorage Wolverines.

In addition to the Windigo, of Eagle River, Wisconsin, the Oklahoma Warriors, Lone Star Brahmas, Maryland Black Bears, and Austin (Minnesota) Bruins have secured spots in the 16-team playoff.

The Wilderness still have a chance in the regular season's final three weeks to overtake Wisconsin for the Midwest Division title. Minnesota will play the Windigo in the Wilderness' final regular season home series on April 6-7.

 
 

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