Junior hockey: Wilderness endure trying times
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a paper called "The Crisis" that helped spark the fervor of the new American Revolution. He was certainly not a hockey player, but his opening words apply to the Minnesota Wilderness.
"These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote.
With nine games to play in the NAHL regular season, the Wilderness (23-23-3) have hit the skids at exactly the wrong time.
Two losses at Aberdeen's Odde Ice Center last weekend put the team's losing streak at six heading into Wednesday night's game in Austin against the Bruins (28-16-0) — and most importantly, has put them ten points adrift of the last playoff spot in the Central Division.
"We've seen some real adversity," Wilderness coach Dave Boitz said. "This is the kind of adversity that the players have never seen in this league, and neither have I."
The recent trade deadline showed that adversity in stark detail. While Minot added four players at age 20, the Wilderness lost three — with two players, defenseman Jesper Wikstrom and forward Oula Kuure — leaving the active roster.
"When everyone else got older, we got younger," Boitz said. "That has an impact. Between us and Minot, that was a seven-player swing in 20-year-old players."
Last weekend the Wilderness lost 4-0 and 4-2 to the first-place Wings, continuing a disturbing trend — not just of losses but of goals conceded. The Wilderness have allowed four or more goals in their last five consecutive game and eight of their last 10.
"When you've had some of the issues we've had with illness, injury and players not on the team, sometimes you lose attention to the details like in the defensive zone," Boitz said. "We've been working extra on those things in practice because we've spent too much time in our own zone. I'm not going to blame the goaltenders because it's a team thing."
Despite the losses, Boitz was happy with the team's effort against Aberdeen.
"We generated chances both nights, we played with passion on Saturday night, and we played pretty well on Friday too," he said. "Right now we need a couple of bounces to get us back on track."
That can start Wednesday against the Bruins, in a game played as this edition of the Pine Journal goes to press.
"There is a confidence factor involved, especially for a young team," Boitz explained. "When we do get those bounces and get some of that confidence back, it's going to be easier."
And, in the uber-tough Central Division, even a couple of wins can make a difference.
"We have nine games left and they're all in the division," Boitz said. "If we can string a few wins together, we can get right back in it."