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Wilderness sweep Bobcats at home

Wilderness forward Tim Nicksic (3) is chased along the boards by Bismarck Bobcat Luke Millen during Saturday night’s game at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. Millen is the son of Cloquet native and former Wilderness coach Corey Millen. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com 1 / 4
Wilderness forward Jesse Farabee (17) was in the middle of the action as a fight broke out in front of the Bismarck net in the third period of Saturday’s 5-2 Wilderness win. Tristan Rostagno (25) gets a good grip before the duo breaks from the group and the referees break them up. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com 2 / 4
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After playing 11 games in 23 days, the Minnesota Wilderness are happy indeed to see December arrive.

The recent hectic schedule is over — and the team is scheduled to play only six games during the last month of 2016.

“We’ve had to make some allowances during that stretch,” coach Tim Madsen said. “We’ve had to limit practice and be sure to give enough time away. But we’ve played a lot of games in the first half and our competition has to play a lot of games in the second half, typically when teams get banged up.”

After a 6-2 loss at home to the Minnesota Magicians on Wednesday, the Wilderness (13-11-2) rebounded with a sweep of the Bismarck Bobcats after Thanksgiving at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

The homestand didn’t start well, with a four-goal loss to a team Madsen describes as the best team the Magicians have ever had.

“I don’t have an answer for you as to why we haven’t had better luck against them,” Madsen said. “Sometimes teams just have other teams’ numbers, and that doesn’t sit well with anyone in our locker room. We’d love to see them again come April and May.”

Tim Nicksic opened the scoring six minutes into the first period, but by the time Zach Mills scored their second goal with under four minutes left to play, it was 4-1 to the Magicians, who added two empty-net goals.

“We pulled the goaltender (Luke Kania) with eight minutes left,” Madsen said. “I thought we could have worked harder. We had the puck in their end the last three minutes of the game, so it was a good lesson for our guys.”

The Wilderness took three misconduct penalties, including one for checking from behind, and had an ejection in Wednesday’s game as part of 54 penalty minutes to only four against the Magicians.

Two nights later, backup goaltender Trevor Micucci made 39 saves on 40 shots as the Wilderness rebounded to beat the Bobcats 3-1. Tristan Rostagno, Nick Altmann and Zach Mills scored the team’s goals, with all four penalties in the game being assessed to the Wilderness.

“We didn’t have a lot of power plays on the weekend,” Madsen said. “But it was a great weekend for our guys. They stuck together, got good goaltending and all four of the lines chipped in. It shows that we have good depth up front.”

The next night, Michael Zuffante joined Pavel Mikhasenok and Luke Dow as first-period goal scorers as the Wilderness went on to a 5-2 win and a weekend sweep before 1,542 fans. Charlie Parker and Nick Olczyk scored second period goals for the final margin.

Madsen credited Wednesday night’s loss to the Magicians with providing motivation for the weekend.

“That loss just didn’t sit well,” he said. “When the buzzer went off on Wednesday to end the game, we knew we’d be amped up for Bismarck.”

The weekend also marked the Wilderness debut for Moose Lake’s Bryceton Butkiewicz, who picked up two assists against Bismarck. Butkiewicz passed up his senior hockey season in Moose Lake to play for the Wilderness.

“He offers great passion, and he’s a great team guy,” Madsen said. “When he came to us he was in football shape rather than hockey shape and he’s been working on that for three weeks now. He’s a tremendously smart player who manages the puck well and got rewarded with a couple of assists.”

Madsen had plenty of praise for his new player.

“He has some ‘pro’ to him because of his sense and his size, which are God-given,” Madsen said. “He needs to develop skill and learn the higher level of play but if he can figure out how to use his body, he could be a Division I player and beyond."

Now that the heavy stretch of schedule is done, Butkiewicz and the rest of the Wilderness will get some time off. After the Dec. 2-3 road trip to Bismarck and Minot, the team doesn’t play until a Dec. 16-17 home series against the Minotauros. And after that, the team doesn’t play again until Dec. 30.

“I’d rather have the points in the bank,” said Madsen. “I wish we were in second place with everyone having played the same number of games but that’s not the reality. But the players will get a full week off at Christmas and we can practice during that 13-day stretch earlier in the month. We also have 15 of our last 22 games at home, when other teams will have games to make up.”

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