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Wilderness target Bruins

It may be a hackneyed phrase, but if you're a Minnesota Wilderness fan, your glass is either half-full or half-empty. After a four-game winning streak helped right their ship, the team is within five points of first-place Austin in the NAHL Centr...

It may be a hackneyed phrase, but if you're a Minnesota Wilderness fan, your glass is either half-full or half-empty.

After a four-game winning streak helped right their ship, the team is within five points of first-place Austin in the NAHL Central Division.

That's the half-full part.

The half-empty part is that the Wilderness (12-12-1) are in fifth place and two points out of last. That's because the Central is easily the league's most competitive division, with only seven points separating the six teams in the standings.

"Five points from first," coach Tim Madsen immediately replied when asked how he views the situation. "Looking into the weekend, we have the first-place team (Austin) this weekend and also play them the first two games after Christmas. What an opportunity for our players to make a statement to our division."

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What would the statement say?

"We're done with the inconsistent play," Madsen answered.

Up-and-down play, and not of the usual Wilderness standard, has dogged the young team through the first half of its schedule.

"The way we won games during our winning streak was pleasing," Madsen said. "They were team wins. We blocked shots, managed the puck and went hard to the net. We did it sometimes before then - we had lots of 'Mr. Sometimes.'"

Last weekend, the Wilderness split with Aberdeen in Cloquet.

"We were the better team for 110 of the 120 minutes," Madsen said. "The first 10 minutes on Friday, we weren't ready to play."

The Wings scored twice in that span, led 3-1 after the first period, and held on to win 4-3. Nicholas Michel, Ben Ward and Geno Lucia scored for the Wilderness, who got 25 saves from Trevor Micucci.

The next night was better in every respect.

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"We held a division championship team with 13 returning players to 17 shots on goal for the night," Madsen said.

This time it was the Cloquet team's turn to start fast, as they blitzed the Wings for first-period goals from Kosta Likourezos, Eric Gotz and Ward. Ash Altmann scored midway through the third period to cement the 4-1 win. Ryan Fanti made 16 saves in goal.

"Without those first 10 minutes Friday, we get a sweep," Madsen said. "It's the difference between third place and fifth place. We have to take advantage of those opportunities, because we're coming to the point where 'shoulda coulda woulda' won't matter anymore."

On Friday, Dec. 15, the teams play in Austin, with the Saturday, Dec. 16, game in Cloquet at 7:05 p.m. On Dec. 29-30, the teams meet again in a home-and-home series, once more with the first game in Austin.

Madsen said that sometimes he has to remember the team is still young, with only five returning players from last year.

"It's hard to stay patient with a competitive nature, but you have to be," he said. "With that winning streak and finishing the month off tough, it's starting to pay dividends. The coaches are going to be demanding but patient."

The Wilderness have several players fresh out of high school and the rigors of junior hockey take some adjustment for them.

"Over the last few weeks, we're seeing them start to turn the corner," Madsen said. "They're hungry, like all the players are."

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