The Anchorage Wolverines defeated the Minnesota Wilderness 5-1 on Friday to win the Midwest Division Finals best-of-5 playoff series 3-1.
The win advances the Wolverines into the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup Championship, which will be held at the Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minnesota.
Anchorage head coach Mike Aikens said the Wolverines will play May 20 and 21 in the best-of-3 semifinal round but their opponent won’t be announced until all four final teams are determined.
“We keep talking about the character this team has,” Aikens said by phone following the win. “They’re good kids and they work hard and do things right and they’re being rewarded for it.”
A first-year franchise, the Wolverines got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with the help of goals from Jackson Reineke and Colton Friesen, with the latter coming on the power play.
“We made a couple good plays early getting the puck in the net,” Aikens said. “It was key for us for get out to a good start.”
Neither team was able find the net in the second period, but the Wilderness cut the Anchorage lead in half early in the third period.
William Persson scored 54 seconds into the third period to bring the Wilderness to within a goal at 2-1.
Raythan Robbins was both busy and effective Friday, stopping 39 of 40 shots for the win in the net. Aikens said his play in the second period may have been the difference in entering the third period with a lead or a deficit. Minnesota had one goal waved off in the second period after the net came off its moorings.
“In the second period, we struggled,” Aikens said. “They were very good but Raythan was great and made some good saves. Had that (goal) counted, it might have been a different game. We were able to weather the storm in the second.”
Anchorage overwhelmed Minnesota the rest of the way, scoring three goals to close out the period and the series. Andy Ramsey scored four minutes later for a 3-1 Anchorage lead.
Ukrainian winger Bohdan Panasenko added a third-period goal with assists Jackson Krock and Matt Johnson and Friesen added his second goal of the game, an empty-netter to seal the win.
Aikens said the team has grown and developed an identity as a scrappy team that makes everything tough on its opponents.
“I think if you talk to guys in the hockey world and scouts that come see us play, they’re impressed with how hard we play, how we hunt down loose pucks,” he said. “We’re a hard team to play against because we get after people and compete hard.”