Anchorage Wolverines keep rolling, pull into tie for division lead

The Anchorage Wolverines just keep winning, and with another victory on Friday at Ben Boeke Arena, the team reached a new benchmark.

The Wolverines’ 5-3 defeat of the Janesville Jets pulled them into a tie for first place in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division.

Anchorage has now won 10 of its last 12 dating back to the beginning of March and, with 82 points, are in a tie with the Wisconsin Windigo.

While the Wolverines have already secured a berth in the NAHL playoffs, a division title would guarantee home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“Every time we can stay in Alaska and make a team come up here and play, it’s a huge difference,” Anchorage forward Romulus Riego de Dios said. “I think we have one of the best crowds in the NAHL, so first place is huge.”

Although he said making the playoffs was the team’s emphasis at the beginning of the season, Anchorage head coach Nick Walters said a division title would be another feather in the team’s cap.

“We would have been happy anywhere in the playoff hunt, but to put ourselves in this position, I’ve got to tip my hat to the guys,” he said. “As of late these last seven, eight weeks, they’ve been dialed. They’ve been playing the right way, really starting to gel, and we’re peaking at the right time.”


The game played clean and scoreless for the first half as neither team scored or committed a penalty for the first 30 minutes.

Anchorage got on the board at 10:30 of the second period, as Anchorage’s Jack Darby deflected a Camden Shasby shot past Janesville goalie Jan Kasal.

A few minutes later, Arvega Hovsepyan made it 2-0 for the Wolverines with a goal on the power play.

With less than a minute left in the second period, the Jets struck back. Mason Kesselring scored to make it 2-1 entering the third period, and Janesville scored again just 3:05 into the third period to tie the game at 2-2.

The tide turned back for Anchorage about midway through the third period. There was a big scrum between the two teams after a whistle and Janesville’s Garrett Frazer was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for a kneeing penalty.

Fyodor Nikolayenya scored almost instantly on a 4-on-4 goal for Anchorage, which recaptured the lead at 3-2. Riego de Dios, who committed to play college hockey at Air Force in the fall, made it 4-2, scoring with just 3:35 remaining.

“I’m sure that (Janesville) player wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m gonna go knee our guy,’ but when that stuff happens, I do like seeing our guys stick up for each other,” Walters said. “It is part of the game, but then we capitalized when it mattered.”

A power-play goal in the final 90 seconds brought Janesville to within 4-3 but Anchorage struck back with a long empty-netter by Jackson Stimple to make the final score 5-3.

“Momentum is a big thing in hockey,” Riego de Dios said. “When they’re on their heels, you’ve got to capitalize, and that was what we did.”

Anchorage goalie Liam Beerman, coming off earning the NAHL’s Goalie of the Month award for March, got off to a nice start in April. He made 30 saves to earn the win.

“He’s been outstanding,” Walters said. “I don’t know how else to put it, but he’s obviously been our rock, the backbone of our team. He continues to raise the bar every week.”

The Jets are in third place in the Midwest and still represent a potential playoff opponent for the Wolverines. Anchorage’s regular season wraps up April 13 with the second of two games at Fairbanks.

“This is a playoff team too,” Walters said. “And we came into this weekend thinking this is a playoff series to get us ready. Who knows, we may see these guys in the first round. You just don’t know how things are going to shake out.”

The Wolverines host the Jets again at 7 p.m. Saturday at Ben Boeke Arena.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.