May 8, 2013 - North American Hockey League (NAHL) - Wenatchee Wild
WENATCHEE, Wash. - The Wenatchee Wild are going back to the NAHL Robertson Cup Championship Tournament for the third time in franchise history after defeating the Fairbanks Ice Dogs 3-1 Tuesday in Game 5 of the West Division Finals at the Town Toyota Center.
Brian Williams (San Diego, Calif.) scored the game-winning goal 7:45 into the third period to break a 1-1 tie and give his team a lead it would not relinquish. Williams snapped the game-winner from the high slot, picking the top left corner of the cage. Josh Hartley (Coquitlam, British Columbia) picked up the lone assist on the goal that clinched the West Division title for the Wild.
"I know a lot of people think young players can't excel in this league," Wenatchee Wild head coach Bliss Littler said, with Williams, his 17-year-old forward in mind. "He has made some big plays for us this year. He has been a good player for us."
The Wild had a couple chances down the stretch in the third period to add to an insurance goal, but Fairbanks goalie Steve Perry was up to the challenge in a one-on-one situation against Jono Davis (La Verne, Calif.) and a tricky wrister against Evan Schmidbauer (Surrey, British Columbia).
The Wild finally got the extra goal they sought with 67 seconds remaining in regulation on Davis' empty-netter, which started the celebration at the Town Toyota Center.
"We have had a target on our back all year, and I think our division has been extremely strong," said Littler. "With the travel we have and as competitive as our games were with Kenai River and Fresno, we feel it's quite an accomplishment to win this division.
"We have a really good group of kids with good leaders. We talked right from the start that if they stay together they have a chance, and they have stayed together. I'm proud of these guys."
Fairbanks drew first blood in Game 5 a little less than six minutes into the second frame when Jacob Hetz knocked in a rebound off of Nick Hinz's wraparound attempt.
Hetz's goal seemed to ignite the Wild, who rang two pucks off the post a couple minutes later during the same offensive possession.
The Wild appeared to even the score with 9:27 left in the second period when Trevor Stewart (East Wenatchee, Wash.) shot a puck into the cage at the end of a power play on a rebound, but the goal was waived off when Stewart was whistled for a 2-minute slashing penalty.
The Wild finally tied up the score with 5:58 left in the second period when Jacob Barber (Dardenne Prairie, Mo.) banged home a round off of Davis' shot from the right wing.
Wild goalie Robert Nichols (Dallas, Texas), who will practically be playing in his backyard at the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament, was brilliant throughout the divisional playoffs. He started all 10 games and posted a pair of shutouts. He also allowed just one goal on three occasions, once against Fresno (Game 5) and twice against Fairbanks (Games 1&5). He owns a 1.77 goals-against average in the playoffs with a .928 save percentage.
"In the end, Robbie Nichols made two more saves than [Perry] did," Littler said.
The 2013 NAHL Robertson Cup Championship Tournament will be held Friday through Monday at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas.
The Wild will open the tournament Friday against the Bismarck Bobcats at 2:30 p.m. (PST). On Saturday, they will play the Jamestown Ironmen at 2:30 p.m. (PST). The Wild will conclude the round robin portion of the tournament at 2:30 p.m. (PST) Sunday against the Amarillo Bulls. The top two teams after round robin play will square off in the 2013 NAHL Robertson Cup Championship game Monday at 5:30 p.m. (PST). For a small fee, fans can watch all of the Wild's games in real time at the tournament by logging on to www.FASTHockey.com.
"We're excited to go," Littler said. "We've played everybody there, and it will be another good experience for the kids."
The Wild played all three teams that they will face in the championship tournament during the regular season. They defeated Amarillo 5-3 on Sept. 13, swept four games against Bismarck and went 2-1-1 against Jamestown.
The Wild are participating in their third NAHL Robertson Cup Championship Tournament after qualifying for the league's premier event in their first two seasons of existence. The Wild last competed in the championship tournament in 2010 when the event was held at the Town Toyota Center.