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Wilderness search for consistency

The old saying goes that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." If that's the case, the Minnesota Wilderness should be downright muscular come the end of this NAHL season. It's been a tough start to the season for Tim Madsen's men, but the s...

Minnesota Wilderness defenseman Eric Gotz and forward Kosta Likourezos work to bring the puck into Austin Bruins territory Friday night in Cloquet. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal
Minnesota Wilderness defenseman Eric Gotz and forward Kosta Likourezos work to bring the puck into Austin Bruins territory Friday night in Cloquet. Dan Saletel/Pine Journal
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The old saying goes that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." If that's the case, the Minnesota Wilderness should be downright muscular come the end of this NAHL season.

It's been a tough start to the season for Tim Madsen's men, but the second-year coach chooses to stay optimistic despite a 7-10-2-1 record through 20 games that has the team tied for an unaccustomed place - fifth - in the Central Division standings.

If the playoffs started today, the Wilderness wouldn't make them. But there's plenty of time left for the team to find its stroke.

"There are positive signs from the team," Madsen said. "Last year we were around the .500 mark at this time of the season and then we went on a streak. That was our coming-out party. But with this team it's taken more time."

The team's search for consistency was evident in a double-loss in a home-and-home series against the Austin Bruins last weekend.

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On Friday, Nov. 17, leading scorer Kosta Likourezos and defenseman Nikolai Lyssogor staked the Wilderness to a 2-1 advantage, only to see the Bruins, captained by former Duluth Marshall standout Lane Krenzen, storm back to a 4-2 win. Trevor Micucci stopped 16 of 19 shots in goal for the Wilderness before 1,172 fans.

The next night, it was the second period that did in the Wilderness in a 5-3 loss in Austin. Likourezos, Ben Ward and former East Greyhound Ash Altmann scored for the Wilderness but a four-goal barrage by the home team helped the Bruins to the sweep.

"We're still finding the consistency to our game," Madsen said. "The only way to do that is to keep working hard and not make excuses."

Still, Madsen understands the ethos around the team isn't one of a fifth-place organization.

"I'm not happy with the results," he admitted. "We have a standard of winning in this organization. It was set before I got here and we carried on that tradition last season. Right now I think it's very important that the players understand we demand excellence every day. We have to be patient, we have 40 games left in the season, but we need to see positive results and guys finding that consistency."

Madsen pointed to the team's relative immaturity as something that needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.

"The Austin series was good but they were mentally stronger than us and they handled things better than we did," he said. "We need to be more mature. When you lead 1-0 and give up a goal, you need to keep your chin up and find the next one as opposed to bad body language and letting your shoulders droop. We need to mature and grow."

The team was boosted this season by the appearance of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton junior Landon Langenbrunner, who played in both games of the team's split with the Springfield Junior Blues Nov. 3-4, picking up an assist in the process.

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"After he got done with elite league he played two games for us and will play the season for the high school team," Madsen said. "As a head coach, I couldn't have been happier with how Landon played. He played with confidence, made plays. If he chooses that he really wants to be a player, he can play at or above our level."

The team got a boost this week when team captain Eric Gotz of Hermantown earned a Division I offer from Miami of Ohio. Gotz already has 16 points in 20 games and entered last weekend's play tied for the scoring lead in the league among defensemen.

"He's a two-way player, a puck mover and defender," Madsen said. "And he's a great young man. I'm a big fan of the way he plays and very proud of him getting that D1 offer."

Meanwhile, future Wilderness player Garrett Daly has received a Division I offer from Bowling Green. Daly, a defenseman, will play this season with Lakeville North and join the Wilderness after his high school season ends.

While the D1 offers are good, Madsen is more immediately concerned about stringing some wins together and gathering momentum.

"I'm very confident in our culture and the way we do things," he said. "I believe in these players and the culture and the way we do things. That being said, we have to stick to our process and living the culture. If we don't do that, we won't win. If we do, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."

The Wilderness will be at Janesville Friday and Saturday this week, but will host the Minnesota Magicians tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 22, at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m.

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