Wilderness on a winning streak at their new Cloquet homeThe Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness is one of the hottest teams in junior hockey.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness is one of the hottest teams in junior hockey.
Winners of seven straight games as of this writing and 10 of their last 11 games, the two-time defending Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) champions moved up to fourth place in this week’s Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) rankings with a 19-3-0 overall record.
The CJHL is comprised of 10 Junior A hockey leagues based in Canada. The SIJHL qualifies since it has three Canadian teams.
“We see the rankings, but we don’t pay a lot of attention to them right now,” Wilderness Coach Rod Aldoff said. “What we’re trying to do right now is build a new home here in Cloquet and so far that has gone very well.”
“We’ve heard nothing but positive comments from people who have come to see our games,” Aldoff said. “They like our product and the team we put out there.”
During their seven-game winning streak, the Wilderness players have outscored their opponents 49-6 while posting three shutouts.
The team’s overall record of 19-3-0 is already good for a 14-point bulge in the standings over the Dryden Ice Dogs and Thunder Bay North Stars, which are tied for second place.
“We don’t coach that we’re the best team in the league,” Aldoff said. “We don’t want our players acting like they’re the best in the league. But what we do want to do is improve and you can always improve no matter how good you are.”
Forward Jake Larson is second in the league in goal scoring with 16 in 22 games, one ahead of teammate Mike Dietrich. Dietrich leads the league in scoring with 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points, 10 ahead of teammate Jordan Shockley in the league race.
Last Saturday, the Wilderness blitzed Fort Frances 7-1 at Northwoods Credit Union Arena, scoring the first six goals of the game.
Shockley had a hat trick in the game with one assist, while Joseph Drapluk had three assists. Former Duluth East goaltender JoJo Jeanetta stopped 32 of 33 shots to post the win. Jeanetta leads the league in goals-against average at 1.44 and saves percentage at .943, with teammate Gordy Defiel second in the league in both categories at 1.55 and .942, respectively.
The lofty ranking may mean something at the end of the season, though. The 128 teams in the CHJL play down for the Royal Bank Cup, which goes to the champion of champions.
“It’s a tough cup to win because of the time involved,” Aldoff said. “The teams in the Central Region (of which the Wilderness are one) play off for the Dudley Hewitt Cup and if we win that, we would get to play for the Royal Bank Cup.”
“That’s the national title for this level,” Aldoff said. “You have to win your league and your district first, though. Outside the (Canadian Major Junior) Memorial Cup, it’s one of the toughest to win.”
The team’s last game before Thanksgiving is at home against the last-place Duluth Clydesdales Wednesday, Nov. 21. The team hits the ice again on Nov. 30 at home against the Fort Frances Lakers.
“We’re glad to get the kids a little time off so they can reset mentally and rest some bumps and bruises,” Aldoff said.