With their playoff lives on the line, the Anchorage Wolverines kicked their final regular season series off in dominant fashion with a convincing 7-3 win over the Minnesota Magicians on Thursday night.
“That’s a huge win for the program to get that one out of the way,” Anchorage coach Mike Aikens said.
Despite the what the final score read, Aikens didn’t feel like the team played at their best. He cited lack of attention to detail as a concern in the winning effort but still maintained a positive outlook.
“We won the game and there’s room for improvement,” Aikens said. “I would like to be a little bit better defensively. I don’t want to give up anything.”
Anchorage came into the game with its destiny in its own hands needing to win at least two of their next three to guarantee a spot in the post season. With the victory Thursday at Ben Boeke Arena, the Wolverines are halfway there.
“It’s a big win for the boys,” said Aiden Westin, who led the team with a game-high two goals. “Only need two more points to lock up a playoff spot so it’s exciting.”
Anchorage (70 points) could clinch a playoff berth Friday by either winning a second straight over Minnesota or with a Springfield Jr. Blues victory over the Janesville Jets. The Jets (67 points) are in fifth in the Midwest Division with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs.
The first game of the series set a strong tone for its remainder and featured spurts of explosive offense by the Wolverines. The game was very physical at points and saw several players on both teams spend time in the penalty box.
“All of those goals were scored with hard work around the net” Aikens said. “I think our guys really worked hard down there and at this time of year, it’s not easy to score goals.”
The opening period was scoreless for nearly first 10 minutes of the game but the final 10 and a half minutes featured a flurry of offense.
It got started when the Magician drew first blood by scoring a goal seconds after their second power play opportunity ended with with just under 11 minutes left in the period before the Wolverines went on to score three unanswered goals to close it out.
“I think they shut down for a few minutes,” Westin said. “It was nice to get a lead there and it helped us win the game. Those three goals during that stretch were huge for the win.”
Anchorage trailed until the 5:19 mark when they tied the game on a goal from Bohdan Panasenko that was assisted by Jackson Krock and Cooper Morris.
They took their first lead less than two minutes later on a goal from Drake Albers and extended it with 31 seconds left in the period when Collin Pederson found the back of the net after assists from Hunter Schmitz and Jackson Reineke.
It didn’t take Minnesota long to cut into Anchorage’s lead with a swift goal 48 seconds into the second period as the Magicians finally capitalized on a power play opportunity to make it a one-goal game.
The Wolverines went back up by two after Morris assisted Westin in scoring the team’s fourth goal of the game at the 14:10 mark. The Magicians continued the rallying effort by making it a one-goal game again by scoring their second of the period with just under nine minutes left on the clock.
“Westin has been one of our best skaters every night and he has been a good leader for us,” Aikens said. “He has been a little snake bit and hasn’t scored as much as he would like to score so it was nice to kind of get the monkey off his back a little bit.
Cameron Morris came up clutch with his second assist of the game to help Westin record his second goal of the second period on a power play at the 4:46 mark.
“I’ve been struggling to find the back of the net recently so it’s nice to get two tonight but more importantly the the win because that is what we really care about,” Westin said.
The third period belonged to Anchorage as they closed the game out by shutting out Minnesota in the final 20 minutes and tacking two more goals onto their overwhelming total. The first came from Morris on a power play thanks to assists from Clay Allen and Westin. The seventh and final was a empty netter from Kory Diponio after an assist from Morris and Campbell Cichosz.
“We focused on keeping their guy high in the defensive zone and tried to get pucks deep and not make unnecessary plays to create offense and really focused on defense for the last 20 minutes,” Westin said.
Wolverines goaltender Raythan Robbins was under siege for most of the night. Heading into the final two games of the regular season, the team intends on tightening up on the defensive end to give themselves their best chance to advance moving forward.
“Some of those things need to be eliminated,” Aikens said. “We could’ve scored a bunch of more goals too but I want to eliminate their chances.”
The two teams play again Friday at 7 p.m. at Ben Boeke Arena with the Wolverines attempting to secure the playoff berth.