Wilderness out of playoffs early
There are good ways to see a season end and bad ways to see a season end. For the Minnesota Wilderness, last weekend's elimination by the Austin Bruins was definitely the latter.
"Two years ago, we were one goal away from getting to the Robbie (last four)," coach Tim Madsen said. "This year was a lot different and it hurts a lot more."
After winning the third game of their best-of-five first-round series by 3-2 on Friday night to stay alive, the Wilderness were eliminated with a 5-3 loss in Saturday's fourth game at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.
"When you get knocked out early, you wonder what could have been different," Madsen said. "I wish we had had more urgency."
Then comes the damning part.
"I think their team wanted to keep playing and we didn't," he said.
That sounds harsh, but in a competition where desire is at least half of the equation, being found wanting in the effort department hurts.
"There are a thousand angles to look at," Madsen said. "Did we run out of gas? We had to work so hard to turn our season around after a bad start. We were banged up, but so was everybody else. Give credit to Austin — they were better in all four games, even the game that we won."
Madsen credited Jacob Sibell for the game 3 win. The goaltender made 38 saves and Alex Spencer scored the game-winning goal at the 4:26 mark of the third period.
"Our goaltender won us the game," Madsen said. "He was spectacular. But you can't flip a switch and play when you want to in the playoffs. You have to show up."
The end of the season has Madsen and his coaches searching for answers.
"I'm at a loss for words," he said. "It's just disappointing. I thought we had some juice going into the playoffs but at some point along the way, we played like we didn't want to extend our season. Seven guys had the flu the week before the Austin series and we had one practice before the weekend. But those are excuses. Every team goes through things like that, but we just didn't perform."
Madsen reiterated that he refuses to make excuses.
"We won't do that," he said. "But statistically, old teams win. The Wilderness team that won the Robertson Cup had seven 21-year-old players on it. We were a goal away (from the semifinals) last year and we had 12 20-year-old players. That probably makes a difference and it's something that maybe we look at for next year."
With tryout camps already coming up at the end of May and the team's main tryout camp at the end of June in Cloquet, Madsen doesn't have much time for reflection.
"We did (player) exit meetings on Monday, and the lesson is simple," he said. "You get what you deserve in life. Guys that want D-1 offers who don't have them yet are now missing out on 3-4 more viewings in front of college scouts because we aren't playing anymore."
"They might understand that in 10 or 20 years, because we didn't show up for a couple of games, that could play a big part in their future," he added. "Not bringing it to the rink might mean you don't get a scholarship and that makes your life different. Sometimes they don't understand the opportunity that is in front of them. We're going to preach that next season and we're going to learn from it."