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Wilderness come out ahead against Fairbanks

The Minnesota Wilderness maintained their first-place pace last weekend, winning twice before dropping the finale to visiting Fairbanks, 2-0, on Sunday.

The Wilderness won in dominant fashion, 5-0, on Friday, and stole a 1-0 shootout win Saturday, when Gustavs Ozolins scored in the fourth round of the shootout.

It marked the second time this season the Wilderness and Ice Dogs finished in a shootout. As he did the first time on Oct. 7 in Fairbanks, it was Ozolins who ended the game with a goal against Esko native Kyle

Abrahamson.

Ozolins said he decided to try a different approach. In his first game, Ozolins scored by shooting at Abrahamson’s low blocker side.

“I went in with a different mindset today,” said Ozolins, a team veteran from Latvia, in a news release. “I knew he knew what I was going to do, and I was looking for something else.”

Ozolins says he drummed up a plan to shoot at the glove side and decided to try it out.

“That was my move going into this week even if we went to shootout, and it paid off,” he said.

Wilderness goalie Nick Erickson posted back-to-back shutouts against Fairbanks, which got a shutout from Tyler Krivtsov in the finale. Erickson, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, earned Bauer Hockey Star of the Week in the Midwest Division for his efforts, stopping 74 shots in the two games.

Petris Purmalis, another Latvian, and Ashton Dahms scored twice each in the opener. Dahms, of Lakeville, Minnesota, is tied for the North American Hockey League lead with 19 goals through 30 games.

The Wilderness (18-9-3) lead the Midwest Division with 39 points compared to 34 for second-place Wisconsin Windigo (15-10-3). With 29 points, Fairbanks (12-13-1) sits in fifth place after the series at Cloquet’s Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

Minnesota will now prepare for one more game before its Christmas break, meeting the Chippewa Steel at 7 p.m. Friday in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Another Wilderness player joins Falcons

Minnesota defenseman Ren Morque announced last week he will play college hockey for the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

He becomes the third member of this year’s squad to commit to the service academy.

Morque, a 20-year-old from nearby Grand Rapids, returned to the Wilderness earlier this season after leaving in the middle of the 2022-23 campaign to play in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers. He has played 46 games with the Wilderness over three seasons posting six goals and 24 assists for 30 points.

“Very proud and excited for Ren,” said Wilderness head coach Colten St. Clair.

St. Clair also coached Morque during his time last season with Sioux City, where St. Clair was serving as associate head coach.

“It’s always rewarding and great to see someone from our Wilderness family get the opportunity to take the next step in their journey,” St. Clair said.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Morque joins defenseman Beau Janzig and forward Joe Cesario as other members of this year’s Wilderness to verbally commit to the Air Force Academy.

Wilderness alum Nate Horn is currently in his fourth season with the Falcons, who compete in the Atlantic Hockey

Association.

 
 
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