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Anchorage Wolverines headed NAHL Midwest Division Finals for second time in three years

by | Apr 28, 2024 | Cover Story, Hockey

The Anchorage Wolverines have plenty to smile about with Liam Beeman. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Boosted by scoring from throughout the lineup and buoyed by Liam Beerman’s stingy goaltending, the Anchorage Wolverines are headed to the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division Finals for the second time in the franchise’s three seasons of existence.

The Wolverines eliminated the host Minnesota Wilderness with Saturday night’s 6-2 victory in Cloquet to win the first-round, best-of-5 series, 3-1.

Saturday’s dagger proved a sturdy bounce-back from Anchorage’s 4-1 loss in Game 3 and advanced the Wolverines to the division finals, where they will have home ice in the best-of-5 series against the Wisconsin Windigo that will send the winner to the Robertson Cup Finals. Anchorage earned home ice by winning the division in the regular season, when its run in the final third of the campaign — 17-1-3 in its last 21 games – lifted it to a one-point edge over Wisconsin.

Beerman turned aside 27 shots Saturday. He permitted just six goals in four games, racked a Game 1 shutout and finished the first round at 3-1, with a 1.49 goals-against average and .956 save percentage.

Saturday’s game was tied 2-2 early in the second period – the Wolverines’ goals came from Cole Christian and Danny Bagnole – before Anchorage’s two high-octane defensemen, Camden Shasby of Anchorage and Trenton Powell of Soldotna furnished a two-goal cushion with goals 2 minutes, 46 seconds apart.

Powell was plus-5 in the clincher and Shasby went plus-4.

Taisetsu Ushio’s goal four minutes into the third period earned the Wolverines a 5-2 cushion and Powell banked a clearing attempt off the glass and into Minnesota’s empty net with less than two minutes to play. Arvega Hovespyan contributed two assists.

The Wolverines in the series received at least one point from 17 skaters and multiple points from 10 guys. Tyler Hennen (two goals, two assists, four points), who scored the overtime dagger in Game 2’s 2-1 win, and Fyodor Nikolayenya (four helpers) led the charge. Christian pumped home three goals, and Shasby (1-2—3), Bryce Monrean of Anchorage (1-2—3) and Brock Devlin (0-3—3) complemented the attack.

Anchorage, guided by first-year head coach Nick Walters, won the special-teams battle, going 3 for 15 on the power play and holding Minnesota to one man-advantage goal in 10 chances.

Coach Nick Walters has the Wolverines into the next round of the NAHL playoffs. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Games 1 and 2 of the division finals will likely be Friday and Saturday nights at Ben Boeke Arena. Wisconsin advanced to play Anchorage courtesy of a sweep of the Janesville Jets. The NAHL will announce the series schedule early this week.

For what it’s worth, Anchorage went 2-3-0 against Wisconsin in the regular season, when it was 2-1 against the Windigo in Anchorage and 0-2 in Wisconsin.

The winner of the series will advance to the Robertson Cup Championship, which includes the four playoff division winners, May 17-21, in Blaine, Minn.

The Wolverines in their inaugural season made it all the way to the 2022 title game in Blaine, where they fell to the New Jersey Titans.

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