In the most anticipated series in their young history, the Wisconsin Windigo hosted Midwest Division leader Minnesota Wilderness in a two-game series at the Dome. Minnesota held a slim 1-point lead in the standings going into the series. The showdown did not disappoint large crowds of Windigo fans, as they swept the visitors by the scores of 3-0 on Friday, and 6-5 in dramatic overtime fashion on Saturday. The weekend was highlighted by a “Stick-it-to-Cancer” benefit in partnership with the Pink Ribbon Riders, in which over $18,000 was raised. The Windigo hope to continue their good fortunes this coming weekend as they host the Chippewa Steel at the Dome in Eagle River on February 24-25.
Friday, February 17: Minnesota Wilderness 0 @ Wisconsin Windigo 3: The game was appropriately billed as a contest of two skilled and evenly matched teams. Perhaps showing too much respect for each other, both teams deployed a conservative and tight checking approach in the first period, in which the Wilderness outshot the Windigo 4 to 2. The Windigo finally broke through 7:23 into the second period when Zach Burfoot scored his 10th goal of the season. Will Schumacher fed Burfoot as he drove to the slot and deposited the puck behind the Wilderness goalie. Cole Mickel received the second assist. The teams each recorded 8 shots on net in the second period. The Wilderness came out flying in the third period and at times seemed destined to mount a comeback. Standout goaltending by Max Beckford kept the visitors at bay until Everett Pietila (from Max Martin and Zach Cline) scored with just 3:23 remaining in regulation to give the Windigo the cushion they needed. Will Schumacher sealed the victory for the Windigo with an empty netter with 2:41 remaining in the game. Beckford recorded his first shutout of his NAHL career to earn the first star of the game. The Windigo outshot the Wilderness 21 to 20. “It was great to win that game in front of an electric crowd that turned out to help us Stick-it-to-Cancer. With first place on the line, it seemed like our guys were a bit tentative in the first period. The Wilderness are an incredibly good team and they kept us at bay all night. We passed up a number of shots that I would like to have seen us take. Eventually we loosened up and found the back of the net,” commented Windigo head coach Blake Hietala after the game. The victory put the Windigo 1 point ahead of the Wilderness in the Midwest Division standings.
Saturday, February 18: Minnesota Wilderness 5 @ Wisconsin Windigo 6 (OT): In Saturday’s re-match, the Wilderness seemed destined to exact revenge and regain the division lead, bombarding the Windigo with 3 goals in the first period. It took the Windigo over half of the second period to get on the scoreboard on a goal by Luke Levandowski. The Wilderness responded 14:05 into the second period to re-establish a 3-goal lead. The Windigo made a game of it by scoring 3 goals in the remaining 4 minutes of the second period to establish a 4-4 tie going into the third. Windigo newcomer Luke Baker scored his first goal as a member of the Windigo to initiate the comeback. Frank Jenkins scored next with a slapshot from the point on a power play. Levandowski scored his second of the game with 30 seconds remaining in the period to tie the game at 4. Daniil Dolzhenko gave the Windigo its first lead of the game with a power play blast of his own from the high slot just 4:59 into the third period. Minnesota sent the game into overtime, scoring with just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation. Exciting action in overtime found both teams exchanging chances. With time running out, Windigo forward Max Martin carried the puck into the offensive zone, then won a puck battle behind the goal line. He then found a seam to pass the puck to Windigo Captain Cole Mickel as he dropped into the mid-slot on the far side. Mickel pounced on Martin’s pass with a one-timer to score with just 16 seconds remaining in overtime. An elated coach Hietala had this to say after the game: “What an effort by Martin to gain control of the puck and feed Cole Mickel. Apparently, Cole’s been saving his first goal of the season for a moment that we really needed it. We came out very flat in the first period, perhaps a bit overconfident from last night. But I am proud of the way we battled back against an strong opponent. That comeback victory showed a lot of character. To get where we’d like to be at the end of the season, we need to play full 60 minute games.” Windigo netminder Gavin Moffatt earned his 13th win of the season, stopping 27 of the 32 shots he faced.
Up Next: The Windigo stay home to host the Chippewa Steel on February 24-25. Puck drop is 7pm both nights. Tickets are available online at www.wisconsinjuniorhockey.com/tickets or at the door. Limited reserve section access is available for $15 and general admission is $10.