Wilderness, Brookings each win one in opening playoff series
Is your glass half full or half empty, Wilderness fans?
But if it's half-full, it's because the Wilderness won Game One 6-3 on a sheet where they lost three of four games to Brookings during the season — and now head on the road, where they won three of four meetings against the Blizzard during the regular season.
"That's a great way to put it," coach Tim Madsen said. "There's still no shortage of confidence in the players, they know they have the ability to go to Brookings and win. We have had success in that building and the players know how to do it."
Friday's 6-3 win before 1,102 fans at Northwoods Credit Union Arena saw the Wilderness race to a 3-1 first-period lead and never look back. After Nicholas Cardelli scored for Brookings to open the scoring, Jesse Farabee, Zach Mills and Tim Nicksic all responded for the Wilderness before the first period was over.
In the second, Tim Faulkner cut the Wilderness lead to 3-2 at 3:40 but Gunnar Goodmanson scored twice in the last half of the period, including a goal with four seconds left in the session, to make it 5-2 after two periods. Nicksic added the clincher at 7:09 of the third period to back up a 45-save effort from Luke Kania in goal.
"We were really, really good," Madsen said. "We were sharp, skating competitive, everybody was going."
The same couldn't be said for Saturday, unfortunately.
With their backs to the wall, the Blizzard produced a much better performance in a 4-3 overtime win before 1,119 fans that had Madsen using a word a hockey coach would rather not have to use.
"We had a few passengers, that's fair to say," he said. "We had 13-14 players going out of 20 and everyone needs to be going in the playoffs. The players are well aware of it but really, I don't think we deserved to win Saturday's game."
Luke Dow, Tristan Rostagno and Nicksic scored for the Wilderness, who were sunk on Faulkner's second goal of the series at the 10:31 mark of overtime. The goal came against Kania, who relieved starter Trevor Micucci midway through the second period with the game tied 3-3.
Game Three is Friday night in Brookings with Game Four scheduled for Saturday. If a Game Five is necessary, it will be played Monday evening, April 24, in Cloquet.
Madsen says the series is going about as expected.
"You know what — they're good," Madsen said of the Blizzard, "but so were we on Friday. We're the same type of team. Minot ran away with the division with a big, strong team but we beat them six times. When you play a team that's similar to yours, it's going to be tight and hard for one team to rip off three wins in a row. You just persevere and hope you can take one more game than they do.
"We need all 20 guys for 60 minutes," Madsen continued. "I watched Washington lose to Toronto in the Stanley Cup playoffs the other night and their coach, Barry Trotz, said that playoff hockey isn't supposed to be easy. We know now what it feels like when you struggle and we have to remember that the playoffs are a process just like the season is a process."
"You can't stop learning," Madsen said. "There always has to be learning, because you can learn each and every day in the season — even in the playoffs."