Wilderness bounced in semifinals
May 26, 2023
The road to the Robertson Cup ended abruptly for the Minnesota Wilderness last weekend, coming with a two-game sweep to the Oklahoma Warriors.
The series started promisingly for Minnesota, which took a 2-0 lead into the third period of Game 1 on Friday at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minnesota. But Oklahoma was the North American Hockey League’s top scoring team in the regular season and fought back accordingly, winning 4-2, before seizing a 3-1 series-clinching win on Saturday.
The Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness finished with a 35-win regular season and advanced through two playoff rounds to capture its second Midwest Division title in team history.
“I’m really proud of the group for their effort during the series,” Coach Brett Skinner said. “We laid it all on the line and unfortunately came up short. From start to finish this season, it was a great group to work with that continued to get better as the season went on, and I genuinely enjoyed the journey we were on together.”
Oklahoma scored four times late in the third period, coming in a 5-minute, 47-second span, to swing the series in Game 1. The high-powered Warriors’ 253 regular season goals were 38 better than any other team in the NAHL.
Brendan Williams scored all three goals in the clincher Saturday for Oklahoma, which advanced to play Austin Bruins in Tuesday’s one-game, winner-take-all league championship in Blaine. Oklahoma used a late third-period goal to break a tie and win the NAHL championship, 4-3.
Austin had won its semifinal series with the Maryland Black Bears, two games to one.
On Friday, Minnesota’s top scorer Kevin Marx Norén assisted on both goals as Minnesota took a 2-0 lead on goals from Michael Quinn and Sawyer Scholl. Norén had been questionable for the series after sustaining a brutal collision in the previous round.
Goalie Isak Posch, committed to St. Cloud State University, made 59 saves in the series and saw his Wilderness career come to a close. Others born in 2002, losing eligibility, are Norén, Scholl, Cole Gordon — who scored the team’s lone goal in Game 2 — Max Watvil, Hunter Bulger, Bo Cosman, Charlie Erickson, Nicolas Haviar, Donovan O’Neill and Gunnar Thoreson.
In the series, the first between Minnesota and Oklahoma, Quinn reached 10 points in his postseason career, becoming the top scoring defenseman in Wilderness’ playoff history.
The Wilderness will waste no time turning to roster-building for the 2023-24 campaign. A series of pre-draft camps June 2-4 in Trenton, Michigan precedes the NAHL draft coming June 14.
The 2022-23 campaign was the second most successful in team history, following its Robertson Cup championship in 2015-16. The franchise has made the playoffs eight times in 10 seasons.