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Wilderness travel to Janesville for first round of playoffs

Wilderness forward Ashton Caulder celebrates his goal in the third period of Sunday’s game against Coulee Region. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com 1 / 5
Wilderness forward Conner Bucsis collides with a Coulee Region player during the third period of Sunday's final game of the regular season. The playoffs start Friday in Janesville. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com 2 / 5
Casey Gilling (6) and a Coulee Region player go down as Gilling's stick is held in the fast-paced first period of Sunday night’s game against the Chill. Sunday was the last game of the regular season. Playoffs begin Friday in Janesville. There will be at least one playoff game in Cloquet the following weekend. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com 3 / 5
Chill player holds Jack Forborts stick down as he attempts to reach the puck during Sunday nights game against Coulee Region Chill. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com4 / 5
Chase Munroe prepares to catch the puck as it flies towards him. Team mate Janis Jaks is ready to help Munroe out if he needs it during the first period of Sunday nights final regular season game against the Coulee Region Chill. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com5 / 5

The Minnesota Wilderness will start defense of their NAHL Robertson Cup championship on the road this weekend, after falling one point short in the race for home ice in the first round.

The Wilderness (34-18-8) fell 3-2 to Coulee Region in a shootout last Sunday at Northwoods Credit Union Arena to come up one point short of second-placed Janesville (35-18-7) in the Midwest Division standings.

As a result, the Wilderness will play the Jets, who were last year’s semifinal opponents, in a best-of-five series in the first round, with three games played in Wisconsin.

“We aren’t worried about the road,” head coach Corey Millen repeated after the Sunday loss. “We have an evenly matched set of teams here and it’s going to come down to the small things to see who advances.”

Ashton Calder and Casey Gilling scored third-period goals on Sunday to erase a 2-0 deficit against the Chill — who finished fourth in the division and travel to Fairbanks in the first round — to force overtime. But the Chill’s Nico Luka was the only shooter on either team to score in the shootout which eventually decided the outcome.

“I thought we certainly played well enough to win,” Millen said. “We had 20 to 25 grade-A scoring chances against them but we couldn’t find the range enough.”

Goalscoring has been an issue for the Wilderness at times this season, with Koby Bender, who would have been a senior at Cloquet High School this past season, leading the team in scoring with 48 points.

“It has been a problem, putting the puck in the net,” Millen said. “We need to get consistent scoring now but in the end, the playoffs come down to who gets the best goaltending and who does the small things well.”

When the teams met in the playoffs last season, it was a best-of-three series with the Wilderness having no home games. The Wilderness won both games to reach the final against Austin, which they also won without benefit of a home game.

“It’s about who wants it most,” Millen said. “The players have had a long season and now it’s a question of who has the desire at the end of the season.”

The season series favors the Jets. The teams met 12 times, with the Jets winning eight contests, including handing the Wilderness four of the nine losses they suffered on their home ice in the entire season.

“We played them close a lot of times, though there were a couple of games the score got out of hand,” Millen said. “We feel confident that we can play well against them and if we do the right things, we can advance.”

THE WILDERNESS VS THE JETS SEASON SERIES

The Jets are led in scoring by Adam Lindborg (Stockholm, Sweden) with 19 goals and 36 assists for 55 points. Lindborg is in his third season with Janesville. Western Michigan commit Dawson DiPietro (18-34-52) came in at mid-season from the Austin Bruins and is second on the team in overall scoring. Janesville is his fourth team in two seasons in the NAHL. In goal, University of Michigan commit Jack LaFontaine (24-8-3, 2.16 GAA, 92.1 SVPCT) is the first choice over Canisus commit Blake Weyrick (11-10-0, 2.50, .912). Games One and Two in the series will be held Friday and Saturday nights in Janesville before the series comes to Cloquet for Game Three on Friday, April 22. If necessary, Game Four would be April 23 in Cloquet and Game Five on Monday, April 25, in Janesville.

Nov. 6 – Wilderness 4 @ Janesville 3

Nov. 7 – Wilderness 4 @ Janesville 0

Nov. 27 – Wilderness 2 @ Janesville 3 (OT)

Nov. 28 – Wilderness 2 @ Janesville 3 (SO)

Dec. 30 – Janesville 5 @ Wilderness 2

Dec. 31 – Janesville 4 @ Wilderness 3

Jan. 30 – Janesville 2 @ Wilderness 1

Jan. 31 – Janesville 3 @ Wilderness 4 (SO)

March 4 – Janesville 3 @ Wilderness 4

March 5 – Janesville 7 @ Wilderness 1

March 11 – Wilderness 1 @ Janesville 2 (OT)

March 12 – Wilderness 2 @ Janesville 8

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