The Anchorage Wolverines are playoff bound in their first season as a North American Hockey League franchise after clinching a berth on Friday night with a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Magicians.
“You get to a point where you expect it to happen but you can’t wish it to happen,” Anchorage head coach Mike Aikens said. “There is a lot of hard work that went in and down the stretch at the critical time of the year when it was do or die, we played some really good hockey.”
Coming into the night, the first-year program could’ve already had their playoff ticket punched had the Springfield Jr. Blues completed their comeback in their game with the Janesville Jets. But the Blues came up just short and fell 5-4 to Janesville, which was chasing Anchorage in the playoff standings.
“I utilize the time and all the games in the Lower 48 start before ours so it’s a good time killer for me before the games when a lot of the work is done,” Aikens said. “We didn’t figure that we were going to get any help along the way. We were fortunate enough that we were in a position to take care of it ourselves and we did that.”
The Wolverines were focused on the task at hand but there was a contingent of coaches and players doing some scoreboard watching around the league.
“I think some guys were looking at it but I’ve never really been like that,” said Talon Sigurdson who received No. 1 Player of the Game honors. “I try not to look at anything like that and just focus on keep playing hockey.”
The Wolverines didn’t waste anytime when it came to seizing their moment as they quickly jumped out to a two-goal lead less than three minutes after the puck dropped.
Cameron Morris got the scoring started following an assist from Kory Diponio after only 1:50 ticked off the clock.
Only 58 seconds elapsed between their first two goals as Sigurdson recorded a goal off an assist from Andy Ramsey.
“I don’t even know what happened, I just went up and got the puck and shot it,” Sigurdson said.
Anchorage’s red-hot offense would cool off until there was less than a minute left in the opening period when Clay Allen scored the third goal of the game with less than a minute left in the period.
“The first two of three shifts we scored two goals so that kind of gave us a big jump in the beginning of the game and continued to pour it on,” Sigurdson said.
Minnesota did their best to flip the script on Anchorage in the first six minutes of the second period. The Magicians scored a pair of unanswered goals less than a minute apart with the second coming on a power play where the Wolverines had two players in the penalty box.
Jackson Krock put Anchorage back up by two goals when he found the back of the net at the 11:56 mark off an assist from Matt Johnson and would maintain that lead for the remainder of the period.
Assisted by Hunter Bischoff, Aiden Westin put the Wolverines back up three goals for the first time since bottom of the opening period by scoring his third goal of the series and first of the game 65 seconds into the final period.
In addition to staying hot on offense from the first game of the series to the second, Anchorage played much better defensively after their goalie, Raythan Robbins, was under a lot of fire the night before.
“Our team has worked hard on our play away from the puck, our defensive structure and picking guys up away from the puck and eliminating good scoring chances,” Aikens said. “Some of that starts with making good decisions when we have the puck and I think we’ve made strides in those areas.”
Aikens is extremely proud of the level of effort and sacrifice that his players have put into this season from when training camp started on August 16th until now and moving forward.
“There us so much sacrifice that these guys have to make on a daily basis,” Aikens said. “From practices to training, workouts and their social lives definitely suffer at times ... It is a long grinding season that is longer than the National Hockey League.”