Wolverines hold strong to edge out Windigo in Game 1 of Midwest finals

Heading into the first game of the NAHL Midwest finals against the second-seeded Wisconsin Windigo, the 2023-2024 division champion Anchorage Wolverines knew they were in for a fight.

Wisconsin held a 3-2 regular season series advantage that included sweeping a pair of games in February the last time the two teams met. But on Friday night, Anchorage came away with a decisive and hard-fought 3-2 victory to go up 1-0 in the playoff series.

“We knew it was going to be a tight series with these guys,” Anchorage head coach Nick Walters said. “They’re a good hockey team, and I suspect all of the games are going to be like this. They’re going to be tight ones. It’s a good feeling to know that you have the Game 1 advantage.”

Both teams recorded a goal in the opening period, but the second would belong to the home team as the Wolverines scored a pair of goals less than five minutes apart. But they would have to hunker down on defense in the third period to finish the job and secure the win.

“The boys didn’t quit after we went 3-1 after the second (period),” Wolverines forward Tyler Hennen said. “We knew they were going to come out hard, so we had to match their intensity, and I feel like we did that just fine.”

He didn’t know that his lone goal of the game, which found the back of the net at the 10:36 mark in the second period, would end up being the difference in the end but was glad to get it all the same.

“I got the puck on a breakout and just threw it on net, and little did I know it was in the back of the net,” he said.


With three goals and three assists through Anchorage’s last five games, Hennen is now the team’s leading scorer during the postseason thus far with six points.

The only goals the Wolverines gave up came when they were short-handed on the ice, though only the first one was technically scored on a power play as the second came right as Anchorage’s Bryce Monrean was emerging from the penalty box.

“We got beat somewhere obviously but after that first one goal which was on the power play, we didn’t really make any adjustments,” Walters said. “Our (defense) has just got to box out in front there and grab that stick.

Walters thought everybody did their assignment in those short-handed situations for the most part, and their penalty kill was “actually pretty good in terms of getting in lanes, closing down the middle, getting clears (and) blocking shots.”

Hennen didn’t think they had to make any adjustments either but praised his teammates who “were blocking shots and sacrificing their bodies to stop the puck from going into the net.”

Even though the Wolverines were at full strength for the final two minutes of the game, it was essentially another power play situation as Wisconsin gave itself a six-on-five advantage after pulling the goalie. But the Wolverines held strong and prevented the Windigo from forcing overtime.

“Obviously when we go down five-on-six, we’re trying to accomplish certain things, so we just made sure guys knew their roles and assignments there,” Walters said. “We knew it was going to come down to probably a goal, so we’re ready for those situations when they arise.”

This late in the season during the playoffs when the Robertson Cup trophy is on the line, no lead is safe, and to be complacent with a lead and a whole period left to play is never an option.

“We were expecting a big push out of them,” Walters said. “I would’ve liked to have seen us be a little bit more disciplined in the third period to keep it five-on-five a little bit more, but that’s the way the game goes sometimes.”

Wolverines goalie Liam Beerman was under siege far more often than his counterpart on the opposite end of the ice. He had nearly twice as many shots on goal attempts against him (31) as Wisconsin’s Max Beckford (16) but gave up one fewer goal and made more than twice as many saves (29-13).

“Beerman has been awesome the whole playoffs,” Hennen said. “Him staying in it the whole game after giving up that goal to start the third, he has been awesome for us.”

While securing the first game of the series gave the Wolverines a lot of confidence moving forward, Hennen said they need to “keep building off of each win.”

The two teams meet Saturday at 7 p.m. at Ben Boeke in Game 2 of the series.

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.