The inaugural season for the Wisconsin Windigo came to an end over the weekend in Cloquet, MN. The Minnesota Wilderness defeated the Windigo by the scores of 5-1 on Friday, May 12, and 5-3 on Saturday, May 13, to win the Midwest Division of the Robertson Cup playoffs. The Windigo lost the best of five game series 3 games to 1. The teams split the first 2 games of the series in Eagle River.
Friday, May 12: Wisconsin Windigo 1 @ Minnesota Wilderness 5 – Windigo forward Patrick Isiguzo generated the first serious scoring opportunity on a breakaway several minutes into the first period. Isiguzo executed a successful deke of Wilderness’ goalie Isak Posch, but his shot rolled over Posch’s shoulder and over the back of the net. The Wilderness then jumped out to a 2 goal lead. Ben Anderson scored his second goal of the playoffs (from Sam Groebner and Frank Jenkins) at 12:32 of the period to bring the Windigo to within one goal of the Wilderness. The opening frame would end that way, with both teams credited with 12 shots on net. The ice seemed to tilt in favor of the Wilderness during the entire second period as the Windigo were outshot 15-6. They added 2 goals, including a shorthanded goal at 10:49, to close the second period with a 4-1 lead over the Windigo. The shorthanded goal was the result of a clearing attempt by the Wilderness from deep in their zone. The puck took a strange bounce off the glass in the neutral zone which found its way into an empty net. Windigo goalie Max Beckford left the net in anticipation of the puck arriving in the corner, but the bounce off the glass took everyone in the building by surprise. At 6:32 of the third, the Wilderness scored again, increasing their lead to 5-1. In hopes of changing his teams’ fortunes, Windigo head coach Blake Hietala pulled his starting goalie, Max Beckford, for NAHL All-Rookie Team netminder Gavin Moffat. The move seemed to spark the Windigo, as they picked up the pace offensively by outshooting the Wilderness 12 -7 in the final frame. Unfortunately, none of those shots found the back of the net. Moffat finished the game saving all 5 shots he faced in relief of Beckford. Beckford took the loss in net with 24 saves on 29 shots faced. “The effort simply wasn’t there tonight. Perhaps if Isiguzo scored on that breakaway, the complexion of the game would have been different. We were outplayed in most facets of the game. Their shorthanded goal seemed to deflate us. We talked about that on the bench and after the second period. You’ve got to put those misfortunes behind you,” commented Windigo head coach Blake Hietala after Friday’s loss.
Saturday, May 13: Wisconsin Windigo 3 @ Minnesota Wilderness 5 – Facing elimination, the Windigo dominated first period from the opening drop of the puck. Much to the delight of a large contingent of Windigo fans who made the 4 hour trip to Cloquet, assistant captain Victor Widlund opened the scoring 9:25 into the game. Drew Fisher and Zach Cline drew the assists. At that point in the game, the Windigo were outshooting the Wilderness 9 to 3. The Windigo continued to carry the play in the first period, outshooting the Wilderness 19 to 8. Nonetheless, the Wilderness scored twice in the opening period. Frank Jenkins’ one-timer on a power play knotted the game at 2-2, with just six seconds remaining in the first period. The Wilderness rebounded quickly, scoring two goals within the first 10 minutes of the second period to take a 4-2 lead. Their shorthanded goal at 9:29, chased Windigo starting netminder Gavin Moffatt from the net. Moffatt left the game with 8 saves on 12 shots faced. Windigo forward Drew Fisher scored 9:47 into the third period to bring his team within one goal of tying the game. The Windigo generated several scoring chances in the waning minutes of play. With just over two minutes remaining and an offensive zone faceoff opportunity, Windigo head coach Blake Hietala pulled goalie Max Beckford for the sixth attacker. Wilderness defenseman, Beau Janzig, sealed the victory with an empty netter from his own goal line with just over a minute to play. Beckford finished the game saving all 6 shots faced. The Windigo outshot the Wilderness 36-19. After the game, an emotional head coach Hietala offered the following, “It’s a bitter disappointment to end the season this way. For the most part, I was proud of our effort tonight. We outplayed them most of the game. We let them off the hook in the second period. Giving up that shorthanded goal clearly hurt us. I felt we had the chance to take this series back to the Dome for game 5. It would have been great to win in for all of our fans who traveled so far to cheer us on.” Reflecting on the season, coach Hietala continued “We came a long way in our first season. When we were 2 and 7 after our first 9 games, things were looking rather bleak. We stuck to our strategy and focused on communication, accountability, team character, and effort. I am proud of the way we battled back this season and won the regular season division title. I think at one point, we went 34 and 8. That is difficult to accomplish at any level.”
Up Next – Preparations for the 2023-24 Season Commence: The Windigo are set to commence preparations for the 2023-24 season. Pre-draft camps will be held in Hudson, WI, May 26-28, and West Dundee, IL, June 2-4. The NAHL draft will take place June 14. The main tryout camp will be held in Anoka, MN, August 2-6. Training camp is tentatively scheduled to commence August 21. The first preseason game at the Dome has yet to be finalized, but will likely be held on September 9 or 10.