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Junior Hockey: Wilderness - Iron Rangers semifinal preview

THUNDER BAY, Ont. - The second of two Superior International Junior Hockey League semifinal playoff series gets underway tonight as the No. 1 seeded Minnesota Wilderness entertain the No. 5 Minnesota Iron Rangers in game 1 of their best-of-seven affair at the Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet at 7:30 p.m.

The following is a preview of the first-ever postseason match-up between the two Minnesota-based sides:

Series schedule

No. 1 Minnesota Wilderness vs. No. 5 Minnesota Iron Rangers

Best-of-seven series

Game 1: Friday, March 22 @ Wilderness 7:30 p.m. (Northwoods Credit Union Arena)

Game 2: Saturday, March 23 @ Wilderness 7:30 p.m. (Northwoods)

Game 3: Tuesday, March 26 @ Iron Rangers 7 p.m. (Hoyt Lakes Arena)

Game 4: Thursday, March 28 @ Iron Rangers 7 p.m. (Hoyt Lakes)

Game 5*: Saturday, March 30 @ Wilderness 7:30 p.m. (Northwoods)

Game 6*: Monday, April 1 @ Iron Rangers 7 p.m. (Hoyt Lakes)

Game 7*: Wednesday, April 3 @ Wilderness 7:30 p.m. (Northwoods)

*-If necessary

It's the Wilderness who, on paper anyway, has a decided edge in this series.

The two sides played each other on 13 different occasions during the course of the regular season with the Wilderness dominating the competition by winning 12 times and dropping the other in a shootout. They also outscored the Iron Rangers by a 61-19 margin.

In the overall standings Wilderness ran away with the regular season title as they set a new SIJHL record for points in a season with 104 on a more than impressive 51-3-0-2 record.

The Wilderness was an amazing 39-0-0-2 to end the season having not lost a game in regulation time since all the way back on Oct. 24.

It's a huge part of the reason why they were the No. 2 ranked team in the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League the last 13 weeks of the regular season.

They boasted five of the SIJHL's top 10 point producers during the course of the regular season led by leading scorer Mike Dietrich, who amassed 77 points in 46 games on 28 tallies and 49 assists.

The league's leading goal scorer, in Jake Larson, was second in SIJHL offensive numbers with 44 markers and 28 helpers for 72 points.

Jordan Shockley (20g-39a-59pts), Jeremy Johnson (28g-30a-58pts) and Michael MacKinnon (18g-34a-52pts) were fifth, sixth and 10th respectively in league scoring.

Dietrich, Shockley and MacKinnon share the SIJHL-lead in game-winning markers with six each.

As for the Iron Rangers, they finished in fifth place in the league standings 50 points behind the Wilderness, but come in on a high after rallying to upend the Thunder Bay North Stars in the opening round of the SIJHL playoffs winning the play-in series 2-1 after taking the third and deciding game by a 5-3 score in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

Leading the way offensively for the Iron Rangers during the regular season were Joey Haydock, Trevor Hoth and Jonathon Losurdo.

Haydock paced the squad with 47 points, including 20 goals, while Hoth had 41 and Losurdo notched 36 points.

The trio also combined for nine game-winning goals.

In their three playoff contests vs. Thunder Bay it was Justin Gregory who paced the club with three points while Max Seiter, Riley Daly and Nick Le Sage picked up two apiece.

Helping anchor each team's respective defensive corps are Nick McCormack of the Wilderness and Le Sage of the Iron Rangers.

In net the Wilderness have a solid one-two punch in Gordy Defiel and JoJo Jeannetta as they finished as the top two in goals-against average, save percentage, wins and shutouts.

Chase Hollander has been the go-to guy for the Iron Rangers between the pipes.

Hollander had 12 wins overall as he made the second most saves in the league this season at 1,004.

One of his more impressive victories during the campaign was an incredible 51-save performance, along with stopping all three extra shots he faced, in a 2-1 shootout triumph over the Wilderness back on Jan. 9.

He has also won both playoff contests for the squad to date registering a very respectable 1.33 goals-against average along with a .938 save mark.

The winner of this series will take on either the Fort Frances Lakers or the Dryden Ice Dogs in the SIJHL's Bill Salonen Cup final.

The league champion will then advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Jr. A event April 30 through May 4 in North Bay, Ont.