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 Minnesota Wilderness

Wilderness to Return to Post-Season After OT Win

April 13, 2024 - North American Hockey League (NAHL)
Minnesota Wilderness News Release

The Minnesota Wilderness needed just one point to clinch a spot in the NAHL's Robertson Cup playoffs going into its game vs. the Springfield Jr. Blues Friday night, and the team got it with the score tied at the end of regulation at 2-2.

But that was not enough, as the team entered the 5 minute 3-on-3 overtime determined to win the game.

Nick Blood made sure that would happen, as he added an exclamation point on the night by scoring the OT winner 1:52 into the extra frame.

That goal capped off a grinding seesaw battle which saw the Wilderness go ahead twice, only to see Springfield come back to tie both times.

Gustavs Ozolins led Minnesota with a goal and an assist while Daniel Astapovich and Beau Janzig each earned two helpers and Nate Murray posted one goal before regulation time ended.

After a scoreless first period, Minnesota opened the scoring early in the 2nd . Murray notched his sixth of the season when he delivered a backhand shot past Springfield goaltender Matt Schoephoerster. That goal at 3:07 into the middle frame was assisted by Janzig and Joe Cesario.

Springfield bounced back early in the third period when Conner Broadhead's goal at the 5:15 mark tied the game at 1.

Gustavs Ozolins put the Wilderness back in front when an offensive zone scramble led to his sixth of the season with 5:02 left to play. Janzig and Astapovich both earned helpers on the tally that made it 2-1.

The gutsy Jr. Blues then made sure the game was not over. Moments after pulling Schoephoerster for an extra attacker, Landry Schmuck lit the lamp with 1:11 left on the clock.

And although Springfield was not in playoff contention, they decided to finish regulation as if they were. Knowing the Wilderness needed just one point to stamp its playoff ticket, the Jr. Blues stepped up its attack in the final seconds by again pulling Schoephoerster to try to win the game before overtime. The Wilderness managed to weather the storm, thanks to some key defensive plays and strong goaltending from Adam Prokop.

In the overtime, the Wilderness controlled the play possessing the puck for all but six seconds. After receiving a pass from Ozolins in the defensive end, Astapovich skated through center and entered Springfield territory on the right side. The forward from Birmingham, MI, dropped the puck back to Blood who skated to the middle of the right circle and ripped a wrister that beat Schoephoerster on the stick side for his 16th of the campaign.

The Wilderness outshot Springfield, 29-22.

Prokop earned his third win in his last 4 starts in net, making 20 saves.

Neither team struck on the power play, as both squads had two chances.

For the Wilderness, the result ensured its fourth consecutive appearance in the playoffs and a chance to defend its 2023 Midwest Division title.

"The goal going into the year was to contend for and win a Robertson Cup to bring back to the city of Cloquet," said a relieved Wilderness head coach Colten St. Clair.

"You can't accomplish that goal unless you make it to the playoffs. There has been a lot of adversity throughout the year and now the fun begins. It's the best time of year and we are looking forward to being the best version of ourselves moving forward."

The Wilderness (30-24-5) and Jr. Blues (20-29-10) will close out the regular season Saturday night. Puck drop at the Nelson Center in Springfield is set for 6:05 p.m. CDT.

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North American Hockey League Stories from April 13, 2024

The opinions expressed in this release are those of the organization issuing it, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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