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When the Wilderness and the Wild meet, anything can happen

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sports Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

It’s called “The Road to the Robertson Cup,” and for 16 North American Hockey League (NAHL) playoff teams, that road is presently paved with opportunity. Cloquet’s Minnesota Wilderness start down the road by playing the Wild of Wenatchee, Wash., this weekend. They’re Midwest Division opponents, but also quite unfamiliar with one another.

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Due to lack of proximity, the teams played just once so far in 2013-14.

If anything can be gleaned from the Wilderness’ previous game against its first-round playoff opponent Wenatchee, it’s that a 2-1 shootout loss in the second game of the regular season seems like a small sample from a long time ago. The September game needed 12 turns to end the shootout. The teams were close then, so it might be surmised the teams will be close now.

The most important takeaway from that game? That it came in front of almost 3,000 Wenatchee fans. The Wilderness may have to expect that number and more in opposing fans if these games move to Washington, three long states away.

Fortunately, Minnesota stays at home in Northwoods Credit Union Arena for the series’ first three games. A sweep means the Wilderness don’t leave home until at least the division finals. The Wilderness host Games 1-3 set for April 4-6, beginning at 7:05 p.m. for Games 1-2 and 5 p.m. for Game 3 in the best-of-five series.

The second-seeded Wilderness earned the right to host three games, in part, by owning a better home record (22-6-2) than No. 3 Wenatchee (17-8-5). Wenatchee is also just 12-15-3 on the road, finishing with 66 overall points to the Wilderness’ 83. Top-seeded Fairbanks (a league-best 91 points) faces off against No. 4 Kenai River (Alaska) in the Midwest Division’s other semifinal.

Still, one NAHL scout said Wenatchee figures to be no pushover.

“They’re well-coached,” said part-time Minot scout Chris Lonke, who is also the coach of Minnesota’s New Prague boys team, a Class A state semifinalist this season. “[Bliss] Littler has probably the most coaching experience in the NAHL. They have strong goaltending, and play an up-tempo, transition-style hockey off turnovers. They are young, but have skill.”

Round One Comparison                                                   

Who’s who:                  Minnesota Wilderness           Wenatchee Wild

                                       Us, the team from Cloquet        Them, the Washington team

Who to watch out for:   No. 26 Darian Romanko        No. 6 Parker Tuomie

                                       2 goals in two of last three              24 goals, but a -1 +/-

Best at:                          Penalty Kill                              Power Play

                                       Best in league 92.54% kill rate3rd best 21.8% success

Goalies:                         Kasimir Kaskisuo                   Chase Perry

                                       League best 1.48 goals against  His 2.34 is not bad

Coaches:                        Corey Millen                             Bliss Littler

                                       Building on his legacy                Jr. Hockey coaching icon

Tickets:                         Home                                         Away        

                                       Adults $10; others $7                 Tix available 1,498 milesEast

Prediction:                   Pine Journal says:                   

                                       Wilderness sweep

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