Wilderness return home behind in series

If your glass is half full, you're noting that the Minnesota Wilderness have been in this situation before. If your glass is half empty, you're noting that one more slip will end their NAHL title defense in the second round.

If your glass is half full, you’re noting that the Minnesota Wilderness have been in this situation before. If your glass is half empty, you’re noting that one more slip will end their NAHL title defense in the second round.

A pair of overtime losses in Fairbanks last weekend have the Wilderness teetering on the brink of elimination, down 2-0 in their best-of-five series with the Ice Dogs. That’s half-empty.

But on Friday night, the team returns home to face Fairbanks again, and would have all three of the remaining games on their ice if they can get the series to a fifth game. That’s half-full.

Coach Corey Millen sees it both ways.

“We did show that we can play with them and can stand up to them,” he said. “We didn’t get the results but we do know we can play well.”


Results are key, though, so a way through needs to be found.

Mitchell Baumann’s goal at the 6:08 mark of overtime gave the Ice Dogs a 2-1 win in Friday’s Game One. Koby Bender had tied the game for the Wilderness at the 7:08 mark of the third period.

“I think we had more Grade A chances than they did even though they outshot us,” Millen said. “The first 10 minutes went really well, we were controlling the game territorially, and then they scored on their first shot. But we battled hard and had a lot of good chances.”

The following night, the Wilderness allowed the game-winning goal while skating two men short in overtime - a source of quiet frustration for Millen.

“The referees in the league are young, too, and you have to remember to have patience with them,” Millen said. “But we haven’t had a lot of luck in power plays lately and being down two men in overtime isn’t good.”

Casey Gilling, who had scored in the first period, was sent off for cross-checking 52 seconds into the overtime, and Alex Toscano was called for tripping at 2:19. Then former Elk River star Reggie Lutz won the game for Fairbanks with a five-on-three power-play goal at 2:33.

“Our kill was good, but they got the five-on-three and that put us in a bad spot,” Millen said.

The Wilderness had killed off five previous Fairbanks power plays in the game, with the home team receiving the last four man-advantage opportunities of the game.


“I didn’t really see the first penalty (on Gilling) and the second was a trip that was a tough penalty to take in overtime,” Millen said.

That said, Millen is happy with his team’s play.

“Saturday, we out-chanced them and played really well. We could never get the lead and we responded on them twice. But now we take it one shift and one period at a time.”

Even though officiating isn’t going their way, the team can’t stop playing aggressively.

“We haven’t really done anything differently than anybody else,” Millen said. “You can’t stop playing aggressively. We’ve been unlucky at times but you always have to play hard.”

And now down 2-0, the team’s best game is vital on Friday night to stay in the series.

“We can always play better,” Millen said. “Based on what I’ve asked them to do, they’ve done great. That’s all you can ask. They’ve done what they’ve been told to do but we haven’t gotten a bounce that would lead to the results. Obviously we got them in the first round but they haven’t yet happened here.”

The way the “swing” series is set up, if the Wilderness force a fifth and deciding game, it would be played Sunday in Cloquet with Fairbanks as the “home” team.


“That’s the best scenario, to get three games on home ice,” Millen said. “We talk a little bit about it but really, right now it’s just one period at a time.”

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