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Wilderness split series against Minot

After a solid come-from-behind win on Friday night, the Minnesota Wilderness junior hockey team saw their five-game win streak come to an end Saturday 3-2 at the hands of the Minot Minotauros at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.

After a solid come-from-behind win on Friday night, the Minnesota Wilderness junior hockey team saw their five-game win streak come to an end Saturday 3-2 at the hands of the Minot Minotauros at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.

“We came out ready to play on Friday,” said Wilderness coach Tim Madsen. “In the first two periods of the game, you saw our group prove that they can be an elite team in this league.”

Minot returned 14 players from last year and they currently sit in first place in the North American Hockey League Central Division standings.

“We knew they’d push back in the third period on Friday night,” Madsen said. “I credit the 20 guys in our locker room for standing up to that challenge to hold the lead and get the win.”

After Minot grabbed a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a goal by former Hermantown player Nate Pionk, the Wilderness bounced back with two straight goals by Pavel Mikhasenok and Luke Dow, which gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead after one period.

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Alexander Esbjors gave the Wilderness a 3-1 lead at 7:51 of the second period and pushed the lead to 4-1 on his second goal of the game in the third period. The Minotauros responded with a goal of their own later in the final stanza, but by then the Wilderness had the lead for good and rode the goaltending of Trevor Micucci - who stopped 23 shots - to the win.

“Trevor was exceptional in goal for us,” Madsen said. “For whatever reason our team scores in bunches and we seem to thrive off of momentum and it showed on Friday night.”

On Saturday the top-ranked Minotauros came out with a purpose and took the body of the Wilderness and eventually the physicality of the game seemed to wear down Minnesota.

“They came out in the first 10 minutes of the game on Saturday and beat us up physically, and that had an effect on us mentally,” Madsen said. “We did not react the right way. Instead of saying OK, ‘they punched us in the stomach the first 10 minutes and now it’s our turn,’ we started cheating the game. We were on the wrong side of pucks, looping and not managing the puck and before you knew it we were behind 3-0.”

To the Wilderness’ credit they managed two goals just 37 seconds apart in the third period to cut the Minot lead to 3-2, but the goals came too late and the Cloquet team ran out of time trying to tie the game against Minotauros goalie Lucas Murray of Virginia. Scoring the goals for the Wilderness were Nick Olczyk and Luke Dow.

“I think it was a good weekend for us as a whole,” said Madsen. “Our group learned they can be an elite team in this league on Friday night, and on Saturday they learned that to be an elite team they have to show up every night. It is all part of the process and growing into a championship caliber team. I’m proud of the first half of our season.”

Currently Minot is leading the Central Division with an 18-8-3 record which is good for 39 points. The Brookings Blizzard are sitting in second with 36 points and the Wilderness are third in the six-team division with 34 points.

“We have been more active in the community than ever before and I thank the players for that,” added Madsen. “We have a tremendous group in that locker room. It is going to be an exciting second half as our players should have a lot of confidence when looking where we are at in the standings, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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The Wilderness play next against Austin Friday, Dec. 30 in Cloquet.

Related Topics: JUNIOR HOCKEY
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