Windigo split with Wilderness, hold on to top spot – Daily Mining Gazette

Apr 3, 2024
Wisconsin goaltender Max Beckford tracks the puck during a game against Minnesota last weekend in Cloquet, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Iverson)
CLOQUET, Minn. — As they approach the final games of the North American Hockey League’s regular season, the Wisconsin Windigo hit the road for their final road trip of the season to face Midwest Division rival Minnesota Wilderness in Cloquet, Minnesota. The Windigo dropped the opening game on Friday, 3-0, but bounced back with a 2-1 shootout win on Saturday.
With one game left in their season, the Windigo are 38-15-3-3, good for 82 points and the lead in the division over the Anchorage Wolverines. However, the Wolverines, who have just two less points, still have three games in hand on the Windigo.
Despite outshooting the Wilderness 13-10 in each of the first two periods Friday, the Windigo found themselves trailing 1-0 after a goal from Minnesota’s Alessandro Lurati just 4:59 into the contest.
The game remained 1-0 into the third before Nick Blood struck at 8:04 to put the game essentially out of reach. He added another with 32 seconds left in regulation when he scored an empty net tally.
Goaltender Max Beckford stopped 28 shots in the loss.
“On Friday, Minnesota played like a team that had a lot at stake, certainly more so than we did,” said Windigo coach Blake Hietala. “We came out a little flat and they dominated play for the first ten minutes. After that, I thought we played a pretty solid 50 minutes of hockey.
“We certainly out-chanced them in the second and third period. We missed some great opportunities. Our shooting accuracy was off a bit and (Adam) Prokop played well in net for them.”
Prokop stopped all 36 shots Wisconsin sent his way.
In Saturday’s contest, the two teams skated to a 0-0 score after 20 minutes of play. The game remained that way until forward Jacob Jastrzebski broke through for the Windigo in the middle frame.
Forward Will Schumacher got things going to start the play by carrying the puck into the offensive zone. He moved it over to forward Everett Pietila, who was driving down through the left circle. Pietila kicked the pass up to his stick and then found Jastrzebski driving to the net, and he tipped the pass into the net at 7:56.
The Windigo held the one-goal advantage until the late stages of the period, when Lurati evened things at 16:57 while Minnesota was on a power play.
Wisconsin outshot the Wilderness in the third, 11-6, but neither team found the net, forcing overtime. Both teams were credited with two shots in the extra session, but neither was able to generate a true Grade “A” chance.
With nothing decided after 65 minutes, the two teams went to a shootout. Wisconsin’s top goal-scorer Max Martin got them on the board first. After Lurati missed for Minnesota, and Schumacher missed for the Windigo, Gustavs Ozolins evened things with a goal of his own.
The next six shooters all missed, including Michigan Tech recruit Ethan DeKay for the Windigo, setting up defenseman Daniil Dolzhenko’s attempt in the sixth round.
Dolzhenko scored, putting the pressure on Minnesota’s Nate Murray. Murray could not solve Beckford, and the Windigo emerged victorious.
“Saturday’s game felt like a playoff game,” Hietala, a Houghton native and former Michigan Tech forward. “The pace was fast. Time and space were at a premium on both ends of the ice.
“Jastrzebski’s goal was the result of a great effort by Pietila to gain control of Schumacher’s pass and make a perfect pass to Jastrzebski breaking to the net.”
While they did not get on the scoresheet, Hietala praised several depth players from the Windigo’s lineup.
“Guys like (Braydon) Beahm, (Logan) Nickolaus, (Luke) Baker, (Elliot) Gulley, and (Zachary) Cline didn’t end up on the scoresheet, but their effort was key to the win,” he said. “They applied a heavy forecheck and put their heads down and came back hard on the backcheck to break up plays.”
After making 28 saves in the loss on Friday, Beckford bounced back with a 29-save performance on Saturday that also included just one goal against in six rounds of the shootout.
“Beckford played well both nights,” Hietala said. “His performance in the shootout provided the opportunity to win the game.”
The Windigo host the Chippewa Steel in the final home game of the regular season on April 6 at the Eagle River Sports Arena. That game will start at 8 p.m.
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