Minnesota Wilderness

Strong PK and Goaltending Help Wilderness Snap Losing Skid

February 10, 2024 - North American Hockey League (NAHL)
Minnesota Wilderness News Release

Nick Erickson's 25 saves and a tenacious penalty kill paced the Minnesota Wilderness to a 3-0 victory over the Kenai River Brown Bears Friday night.

Daniel Astopovich scored a short-handed goal and the Wilderness held off the Brown Bears on all six of their power play chances. Minnesota's penalty kill was at its sharpest when it managed to wipe out a 25-second span in the third period when Kenai River had a 2-man advantage.

Nick Blood and Joe Cesario also lit the lamp for Minnesota.

The Wilderness scored its second "shorty" of the season thanks to a 2-on-1 break from Logan Nagle and Astopovich. The play started when Nagle blocked a shot by Kenai's Luke Hause, and that sparked Nagle and Astopovich, positioned to Nagle's right, to take off through center ice. Nagle carried the puck into the Brown Bear zone, but a gutsy defensive maneuver by Hause first appeared to stifle Minnesota's chance to score. Yet Nagle still managed to center the puck to Astopovich in front. After an initial shot was blocked by Kenai netminder Conor Sullvan, Astopovich fired in the rebound for his 10 th tally of the season to put the Wilderness up 1-0 with 6:51 left in the first period.

That was the only time Nagle and Astopovich would light the lamp in the game, yet the duo continued to pester Kenai's power play units through each of its opportunities with the man-advantage.

The Wilderness managed to cling to that one-goal lead through the end of the first and the entire second period, with Erickson deserving much of the credit due to his work in goal. The veteran from Apple Valley, MN, earned his fifth shutout of the season with some sparkling saves. One of his biggest came in the 2nd period when he shut the door on Owen Hanson when the forward tried to tie the game on a short-handed breakaway.

The Wilderness began to pull away thanks to two goals scored less than one minute apart in the final period. Two newcomers were involved in the marker that made it 2-0. As Kenai tried to exit its defensive zone, Nate Murray helped strip the puck away from Hanson. That allowed Oliver Stümpel to gain possession and then deliver the puck to Blood at the bottom of the right face-off circle. Blood then snuck a shot through Sullivan's five hole for his 11th of the season for Blood with 8:58 remaining in regulation time.

It was Blood's first in a Wilderness uniform in his first game after being acquired last week in a trade with Fairbanks. It was also Murray's first assist for Minnesota after being acquired this week from the Madison Capitols of the USHL.

55 seconds later, the Wilderness added one more with another strong forechecking effort. After stealing the puck away from Jacob Margarit in the slot in Kenai territory, Nash Jacobsma teed up Cesario who scored his fourth of the year with a one-time blast. Cesario's shot from the right circle whipped past Sullivan's stick side with 8:03 left to play.

Minnesota outshot Kenai 36-25.

On the power play, the Wilderness was scoreless on three chances.

It was the first win for Minnesota (23-16-4) since Jan. 13 as the club snapped a 5-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, Kenai (12-27-3) saw its losing streak extend to 14 games

Game 2 of the weekend series will be Saturday night at 7:15 in Cloquet.

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