The Wilderness is back!
CLOQUET—Saturday night at the Minnesota Wilderness game was like “scenes from a hockey game.” Norman Rockwell, who enjoyed painting more than a few scenes on ice, would have found plenty of inspiration in the Wilderness’ 3-0 victory at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.
The win was the team’s sixth straight, and it was noted for the following:
- A post-game Jakob Romo, the team’s leading scorer, using his stick blade to sweep the ice surrounding his congratulating teammates. With his brush strokes, Romo was gleefully indicating a weekend sweep of Aberdeen, 3-0 and a 3-2 shootout victory Friday.
- Forward Brett Heikkila blocking a slap shot off his shin in the first period that left his right leg trailing and him limping like a car-struck dog for the rest of his shift, which he dutifully finished.
- Alex Fredberg playing the role of hero by sniping the team’s first two goals from the left point. The second of the goals was later ruled to have been redirected by big Eric Brenk. “They didn’t want me shooting after that,” said Fredberg, who got off four third-period blasts anyway in playing a sizzling offensive game from the defensive left point.
- Backup goalie Frank Oplinger taking a point-blank bullet to the chest that saw him sink to his knees for one of his 18 saves in a shutout. Oplinger is now 10-6 with a 2.02 goals against average in relief of the injured University of Minnesota Duluth-bound Kasimir Kaskisuo. Oplinger’s stellar play has teammates shouting, “Frank the Tank,” and others wondering which college team will be lucky enough to land the Sewickley, Pa., kid.
- Forward Jaycob McCombs played one of the team’s all-time abandon games by throwing his body into every part of the fray. He went to the Aberdeen net so hard one time he was hanging pull-up style from the dislodged net’s crossbar. He and a teammate raced to block a puck while back-checking that left them diving and glancing face shields off one another. He lost a stick at one point, his helmet at another. He crashed into the boards once in a body-length sprawl. He was everywhere.
- Corey Millen smiling so wide in the parade to the locker room after the game that the cool Oplinger caught him and said, “Easy, coach.”
- Cloquet Squirt goalie Jacob Walsh waiting around the locker room after the game for a broken stick and bounding away impressed once he received one.
All of this is to say, after a lull in the action that saw the team go 2-9 from Dec. 7 to Jan. 17, Millen’s Wilderness appear to be back on track. Since winning outdoors in Elk River on Jan. 18, the team has outscored the opposition 21-8 in six straight wins.
“The holiday break killed us,” Fredberg said. “We got a week off and we lost our mental attitude. We’re finally getting it back.”
They’ll know for sure this weekend with two games against Coulee Region in Onalaska, Wis. Coulee leads the season series 3-1. The Wilderness return home Valentine’s Day for a two-game set against Bismarck, N.D.
The Wilderness, with 56 points, is tied with Bismarck for the fourth best record in the 24-team North American Hockey League. The Cloquet team trails only Fairbanks and its 64 points in the Midwest Division.