Wilderness beats Central Division's No. 1 team ... twice

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Don't look now, but the Minnesota Wilderness hockey team is making another run for the top of the Central Division standings in the North American Hockey League. This past weekend the Wilderness improved their chances with a sweep of the Central Division leading Minot Minotauros by scores of 4-3 Friday and 2-1 Saturday at Northwood's Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.

A huge crowd of nearly 2,000 people turned out at Northwood's Friday for a game that saw the Wilderness seal the victory on a power-play goal by newly acquired defenseman Colton Berg late in the second period.

"The weekend sweep was important for us," said Wilderness head coach Tim Madsen. "We were excellent the first two periods and we had them on their heels with our team speed and work ethic."

The Wilderness grabbed a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Jesse Farabee and Luke Dow, but the second period saw both the Wilderness and the Minotauros score twice, making it 4-2 entering the final period.

"We had some issues with puck management in the third period," explained Madsen. "That led to some opportunities for Minot, but we found a way to win, which is a sign of a team coming together."

A key to the win on both nights was stellar goaltending and the Wilderness got a 27-save effort from Trevor Micucci as they hung on for the win.

Saturday night Minot came out hard and the Minotauros pressed the Wilderness hoping to salvage a draw on the weekend.

"They threw everything at us in that third period," remarked Madsen. "Our guys persevered and found a way to get it done which is all that matters this time of year. Wins are hard to come by and we are just focused on winning games."

It took third-period heroics on many levels for the Wilderness to win Saturday, but goals by Tyler Vold on the power play and then a goal six minutes later by Luke Dow were all they needed as goalie Luke Kania provided a huge performance in the nets by stopping 29 of 30 shots. Vold's power-play goal came just 41 seconds into the third period and that helped ignite the offense to the win.

"That early goal was huge for us in the third period," Madsen said. "I think it was one of those games where the puck was bouncing for both teams, but our guys kept working and working and finally got rewarded for it."

Minot came into the weekend with what appeared to be a very comfortable 10-point lead on the Wilderness, but after the weekend sweep by the Cloquet-based Wilderness the lead is down to six points, plus Minnesota has a game in hand over the Minotauros. Amazingly these same two teams will play each other five more times, so truly their fate is in their hands. Win against the other team and you gain two points in the standings, making it a four-point swing on any given night they play each other.

"It was an extremely tough weekend and Saturday especially was tough," Madsen said. "We knew they were going to have a big push back having lost on Friday night. Our players responded with a tremendous effort and found a way to win a hockey game."