The last weekend of the regular season found the Windigo on the road to face the Springfield Jr. Blues. Having clinched the Midwest Division regular season championship and home ice advantage in the playoffs back on April 6, the Windigo rested several players during the weekend, allowing the opportunity for various prospects for next season to be evaluated in NAHL action. Nonetheless, the Windigo swept the Jr. Blues on April 14 and 15, in Springfield, IL. Action during the weekend established the final pairings for round one of the playoffs. The top four seeds in the regular season Midwest Division standings are as follows: Wisconsin Windigo (81 points), Minnesota Wilderness (77), Kenai River Brown Bears (68) and Chippewa Steel (66 points). The Windigo host the Steel in games 1 and 2 of the first round of the playoffs on April 21-22 in Eagle River, WI.
Friday, April 14: Wisconsin Windigo 7 @ Springfield Jr. Blues 4 – Springfield struck first just over a minute into the first period to take an early lead. Windigo forward Everett Pietila (from Sam Groebner) scored his 7th goal of the season 8 minutes later. Logan Nickolaus put the Windigo up 2-1 with his second goal of the season. Nickolaus was one of 4 affiliate players inserted into the lineup, to allow veteran players to rest in preparation for the playoffs. Cashen Naeve assisted on the goal. The Windigo held a 12 to 7 advantage in first period shots on goal. In his first game back since suffering an injury on March 10, Luke Levandowski scored his 28th goal of the year unassisted on a power play at 4:34 of the second period. Chris Kernan and Patrick Isiguzo both scored goals within 40 seconds of Levandowski, to put the Windigo up 5-1. Springfield answered at 6:07 of the second period to bring the score to 5-2. Chris Kernan scored his second of the game (unassisted), followed by Ben Anderson (from Jacob Jastzrebski) to close out the period 7-2 in favor of the Windigo. Springfield mounted a comeback effort in the final frame, picking up 2 goals, but fell short by the final score of 7-4. Windigo goalie Max Beckford recorded his 18th win of the season with 20 saves.
Saturday, April 15: Wisconsin Windigo 5 @ Springfield Jr. Blues 2 – The Windigo peppered the Jr. Blues netminder with 15 shots in the opening period and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Patrick Isiguzo (from Everett Pietila and Connor Mahony) and Drew Fisher (from Jacob Jastzrebski and Sam Groebner). Springfield scored late in the first to close the period with the Windigo leading 2-1. Opening the second period on the power play, Zach Burfoot won an offensive zone draw and moments later scored after burying a rebound off a shot from the point by Axel Begley. Luke Baker earned the second assist on Burfoot’s goal. Springfield scored a minute later to trim the Windigo lead to 3-2. Max Martin scored (from Jastzrebski) just over 9 minutes into the second to widen the lead to 4-2. Luke Baker scored an unassisted empty netter late in the game to seal the victory for Wisconsin. Gavin Moffatt earned his 21st win of the season, turning away 26 shots in the contest.
Coach Hietala’s Comments: “It was great to come away with a sweep this weekend. Winning 39 games during the regular season is a big accomplishment. I am proud of our guys for battling all season long. We have come a long way since starting out the season winning just 2 of our first nine games,” commented Windigo head coach Blake Hietala upon conclusion of the 2 game series. “We rested several players each night this weekend. Our focus for the last few games has been on the playoffs. We were a little undisciplined in our play away from the puck on Friday, but overall, it was a solid team effort this weekend. It was great to have the opportunity to look at a several players that we are evaluating for next season,” continued coach Hietala after Saturday’s game.
Playoff Format and Schedule: The divisional playoffs are the best of 5 games series, to be played in a 2-2-1 format. The higher seeded team hosts games 1 and 2. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary), will be hosted by the lower seed. Game 5 (if necessary) is hosted by the higher seed. The Windigo will face the Chippewa Steel in the first round of the playoffs. During the regular season, the Windigo won 6 of the 8 games played against the Steel. Round 1 playoff home games for the Windigo will be held on April 21 and 22, at 7pm at the Dome in Eagle River, WI. Game 5 (if necessary) will be held in Eagle River on April 30, at 6pm. Tickets for all home games are available at www.wisconsinjuniorhockey.com/tickets or at the door.