The Windigo hit the road to face the Minnesota Wilderness in a Thursday/Friday matchup with each team having just 4 games remaining in the regular season. The Windigo led the Wilderness in the standings by 4 points heading into the series; hence, the series was destined to determine the regular season champion in the Midwest Division. The victory on Thursday night clinched the regular season Midwest Division championship for the Windigo. It is possible that the teams can finish the regular season with the same number of points, but the Windigo hold all of the tie breakers, such as games won and head to head wins. As a result, the Windigo have home ice advantage for the Midwest Division playoffs and will host a yet to be determined opponent on April 21-22 in Eagle River, WI.
Axel Begley Named Bauer Midwest Star of the Week: Defenseman Axel Begley, 19, continued his strong play as he helped the Windigo to a weekend road split with the Minnesota Wilderness. The 6’2”, 200 lbs. native of Mahtomedi, MN, had 3 assists and was +2. On Friday, Begley assisted on the lone goal of the game. On Saturday, he assisted on both Windigo goals in a 3-2 loss. For the season, Begley currently leads the team in scoring by defensemen with 35 points in 55 games played to date. “Axel has been a presence for us all year at both ends of the ice and his play this past weekend helped us clinch the division. His ability to produce offensively while being one of the better defenders in the league is impressive and we’re hoping he helps us make a long run,” said Windigo head coach Blake Hietala.
Thursday, April 6: Wisconsin Windigo 1 @ Minnesota Wilderness 0: With first place in the division on the line, this contest had all the makings of a playoff style game and the action on the ice was exactly that. The teams battled to a scoreless first period, with tight checking and excellent goaltending on display. The Windigo outshot the Wilderness 9 to 6 in the opening frame. The second period was much of the same, but assistant captain Victor Widlund was able to find the back of the net 3:52 into the period. Will Schumacher gained control of the puck just inside his own blueline and carried the puck up ice into the Wilderness’ zone. He fired a shot from a sharp angle and the rebound came right back to him. Schumacher continued his momentum and carried the puck around the net to find a wide open Widlund trailing the play. Widlund’s shot from close range eluded Wilderness goaltender Isak Posch. Fast action and tight checking ensued the balance of the game. With 8 minutes remaining in the third period, Widlund tried to return the favor to Schumacher with a cross ice pass, but Posch made a superb save and the score remained 1-0 in favor of the Windigo. The Windigo outshot their opponent 26 to 20 during the game. Windigo goaltender Max Beckford recorded his 17th win and second shutout of the season.
Friday, April 7: Wisconsin Windigo 2 @ Minnesota Wilderness 2 : In preparation for the playoffs the Windigo rested several key players, including forwards Victor Widlund, Will Schumacher and Max Martin, and defensemen Cole Mickel and Frank Jenkins. The tight checking and fast paced playoff style hockey of the previous night continued in game 2 of the series. The Windigo opened the scoring 16:08 into the first period when Luke Baker’s cross ice pass found Ben Anderson heading up ice. Anderson drove into the offensive zone and released a shot from the right faceoff circle to beat the Wilderness netminder Isak Posch to the far side. Axel Begley drew the second assist on the play. The Wilderness tied the game just 2 minutes later and the period ended in a 1-1 tie. Minnesota scored again 3:11 into the second period. Ben Anderson broke through the Wilderness defenders twice more, only to be stymied by Posch. Minnesota went up 3-1 at 7:39 of the third period. Connor Mahony brought the Windigo to within a goal at 8:05 of the third period with a wrist shot from the high slot. Begley and Drew Fisher assisted on Mahony’s power play goal. The Windigo pulled goalie Gavin Moffatt with 1:02 left in the third period They mounted sustained pressure but failed to convert on a goal mouth scramble in the waning seconds of play. The Wilderness outshot the Windigo 29-27.
Coach Hietala’s Comments: “This weekend’s games felt like playoff games. The pace was fast, and the checking was tight. On the big sheet in Cloquet, our structure and discipline helped. On Thursday, Schumacher’s effort on Widlund’s goal is the type of play we need more of come playoff time. Our defense played well, and Beckford was great in net. He made several key saves to secure the win,” commented Windigo head coach Blake Hietala upon conclusion of the 2 game series. “On Friday, we rested some players. We need to be sure players are fresh and as healthy as possible for the playoffs. I was proud of our team effort on Friday. Anderson and his line created several quality scoring chances. The guys stepped up and played a very competitive game against a team that was battling for home ice advantage in the playoffs,” continued coach Hietala regarding Friday’s game.
Up Next: The Windigo hit the road for the final 2 games of the regular season to take on the Springfield Jr. Blues on April 14-15. They return home on April 21 and 22 for the first round of the playoffs. Puck drop is 7pm. Tickets are available at www.wisconsinjuniorhockey.com/tickets.