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Wilderness have to ‘dig deep’

The Minnesota Wilderness are making it a bit harder on themselves to claim the NAHL’s Midwest Division championship.

The Wilderness were swept in a two-game series last weekend against the Central Division-leading Austin Bruins in Austin but rebounded to take a Tuesday night matchup against the Minnesota Magicians.

Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime win moved the Wilderness (35-13-6) two points behind division-leading Fairbanks with two games in hand and six games remaining in the regular season.

The teams battled through two scoreless periods before Kane Durment gave the Magicians the lead at the 2:02 mark of the third period.

The Wilderness roared back with a pair of goals by Aaron Miller 2:47 apart in the middle of the period, only to see Lukas Laub tie the game for the Magicians with 3:48 left in regulation.

In overtime, though, Ivan Chukarov scored the game-winner with 3:25 gone to give the team two badly needed points.

Brock Kautz stopped 22 of 24 shots in goal for the win.

“In each of our last three games, including the two we lost against Austin, we played well in the first period, but had nothing to show for it,” Coach Corey Millen said. “This gave our opponents momentum. Last night we overcame it, but in Austin we couldn’t.”

But things didn’t go well — at all — at Riverside Arena against the Bruins.

After a scoreless first period on Friday night, the Wilderness allowed three second-period goals around a second period power play goal by Wayland Williams, his second for the team since being acquired from Rio Grande Valley, but that was as good as it got for the Wilderness in a 4-1 loss.

It was an emotional game, with the teams combining for 22 penalties totaling 63 minutes, including game misconducts on Brett Heikkila for checking from behind and on Austin’s Jamie Huffman after the game ended for abuse of officials.

The next night, though, the Bruins snapped a 1-1 second period tie with goals from Luke Dietsch and the first of a hat trick from Trevor Boyd to take a 3-2 lead after two. Boyd then completed his hat trick in the third period for the 5-2 final score, with the last goal coming into an empty net.  Ian Mansfield and Miller scored for the Wilderness.

The Wilderness conclude their season series with the Magicians on Thursday night in Richfield before returning home for their final three home games of the regular season.

“We’re going to have to dig deep,” Millen said. “We haven’t had a full lineup in forever, but every point is crucial. That said, we’re focusing on being at our best for playoffs, and we won’t risk everything on the last three games [of the regular season].”

Bismarck (28-25-3) will visit Northwoods Credit Union Arena March 20-21 before the team plays its final three games of the season against Coulee Region (24-21-9). The first game will be at home on March 27, with the last two games on the 28th and 29th meaning the team will conclude the regular season with three games in the last three days.

Meanwhile, Fairbanks (37-15-4) has four games remaining, with all four coming against last-place Kenai River (15-39-2).  The first two games will be played in Soldotna, Alaska March 20-21, and the last two in Fairbanks the following weekend.