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HOCKEY

Late defensive stand helps Wolverines earn 3-2 win over Wisconsin, 1-0 lead in Robertson Cup series

by | May 4, 2024 | Cover Story, Hockey

Anchorage’s Vaughn Maker (right) congratulates starting goalie Liam Beerman after a 3-2 win Friday night. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

The same six young men announced as the Anchorage Wolverines’ starters Friday night found themselves out on the ice yet again at game’s end.

A tension-filled, elongated conclusion at that.

“Oh my god, it felt like the whole game,” Wolverines defenseman Camden Shasby said of the excruciating closing time it took to secure a 3-2 victory at Ben Boeke Arena. “I mean you’re so gassed. But you’ve got to give 110% when you’ve only really got like 70%.”

Shasby was joined on the sheet by fellow Alaskans Trent Powell and Bryce Monrean, goaltender Liam Beerman and forwards Fedya Nikolayena and Tai Ushio – Anchorage’s top unit. Hampered by instances of playing the puck with a high stick in the neutral and offensive zones, icings and near misses at Wisconsin’s empty net, the sextet played the final 66 seconds of their win over the visiting Windigo.

It might have felt more like six hours.

“It’s definitely a bagger,” Shasby said in reference to the toll crucial moments can take physically and mentally. “It is fun being in those situations because it does make you better.”

The Wolverines mustered only 16 shots on goal before a less-than-capacity announced playoff crowd of 884. They were uncharacteristically undisciplined, surrendering five power-play opportunities to Wisconsin while only getting one for themselves. They protected a one-goal lead for more than 17 minutes. The penalty kill successfully snuffed out three Windigo power plays in the first half of the third period.

Wolverines’ winger Tai Ushio on the forecheck. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Thanks to all that effort, Anchorage accomplished the evening’s main mission as it opened up a 1-0 advantage in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division Finals. Game 2 of the Robertson Cup Best-of-5 series is back at Boeke on Saturday, starting at 7 p.m.

Beerman completed his 29-save outing when he turned aside Logan Nickoloaus’ desperation shot from near the left point. Mercifully for the Wolverines and their fans, the save synced with the final buzzer.

“I saw it the whole way, no problem at all,” Beerman said as he neared the stairs leading up to the Wolverines’ dressing room.

The goalie from Marquette, Mich., won for the 31st time in his 47th games combined between the regular and postseason. He’s fashioned a .946 save percentage in five playoff starts.

Los Angeles native Arvega Hovsepyan notched Anchorage’s first goal at 5:51 of the first period. Hovsepyan was the first shooter to beat Wisconsin netminder Max Beckford, which hasn’t happened much of late. A Bentley University commit, Beckford allowed only three goals on 113 shots (1.00 goals against, .973 save percentage) during the Windigo’s division semifinal sweep of Janesville.

Friday night’s game was tied 1-1 going into the second period after Wisconsin’s Everett Pietila’s equalizer.

Anchorage scored twice in the second. One score from an unlikely source and the second from the scorching-hot Tyler Hennen. His goal at 9:24 was his third in five playoff games and 18th of the season. He leads the team with six postseason points thus far.

Tyler Hennen celebrates after scoring for the Wolverines. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

A few minutes before Hennen’s heroics on a sweep down the left wing and across the goal line, fellow Minnesotan Drew Nelson scored for the first time as a Wolverine. Nelson managed to gather Kade Shea’s deflected pass and slip a shot from the top of the left circle through Beckford at 2:43.

“The puck was really fluttering, and a guy was in the way,” Nelson said. “I really couldn’t see the goalie at all. I heard the puck hit his stick, so I didn’t think it went in.”

According to NAHL’s official stats, Nelson played in his eighth game Friday. He figured it was about his 12th.

Regardless, it was definitely his first goal at the junior level.

The Duluth, Minn., played early in the season for Anchorage before returning home to play in the hallowed Minnesota State High School League’s Boys Hockey State Tournament. It’s a known spectacle with championships played in front of thousands packed into the NHL Minnesota Wild’s arena. Nelson’s Class A Hermantown squad lost to St. Cloud Cathedral, 3-1, in the March 9 title game.

Performing on that big stage prepared Nelson for Robertson Cup postseason play.

“Lots of tension, especially being part of a winning team like (the Wolverines),” said Nelson, 18. “This group is so close, just like my high school team.”

North American Hockey League
Robertson Cup Playoffs
Division Finals (Best of 5)
Midwest Division

Anchorage Wolverines vs. Wisconsin Windigo (ANC leads 1-0)
Game 1 – Anchorage 3, Wisconsin 2
Game 2 – May 4 @ ANC, 4:15 p.m. AKDT
Central Division
Minot Minotauros vs. Bismarck Bobcats (MNT leads 1-0)
Game 1 – Minot 5, Bismarck 2
Game 2 – May 4 @ MNT, 3:35 p.m.
East Division
Maryland Black Bears vs. Maine Nordiques (MNE leads 1-0)
Game 1 – Maine 2, Maryland 0
Game 2 – May 4 @ MYD, 2:30 p.m.
South Division
Lone Star Brahmas vs. Shreveport Mudbugs (SHV leads 1-0)
Game 1 – Shreveport 3, Lone Star 2 OT
Game 2 – May 4 @ LON, 3:30 p.m.

DEMIDOV MAKES A DIFFERENCE

Nikolayenia, the Wolverines leading scorer, left Belarus in 2021. He made North American stops in both the United States Hockey League and elsewhere in the NAHL before arriving in Anchorage to play out his junior days.

Friday marked Nikolayenia’s 110th game in a Wolverines’ sweater. This season, he’s felt a little more comfortable thanks to the team’s skill coach Ilya Demidov.

Hailing from Moscow, Russia, Demidov isn’t Nikolayenia’s countryman. But at least he’s a neighbor.

“Feddy’s got someone that speaks the same language, which is nice because he’s not been home in a long time,” said Wolverines first-year coach Nick Walters, a 2006 Chugiak High grad. “Homesickness can set it, so he’s had an adult figure around to count on.”

Demidov, a 1997 Calgary Flames draftee who suited up in 118 North American pro contests and multiple seasons overseas, joined Walters and assistant coaches Merit Waldrop and Sam Graham shortly before the season started. His role has become more defined as games, practices, off days, travels days et all mounted.

“Before and after every practice, Ilya is out there doing whatever our players need,” Walters said. “Everyone’s taken a real liking to him.”

Wolverines’ coach Ilya Demidov. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

A family connection brought Demidov to Anchorage. His sister, Dasha Basova Worthen, played basketball at UAA from 2007-2009.

“It’s a new experience for me (with the Wolverines),” said Demidov, 45. “We have a great team. Everyone has really listened to and respected me.”

Demidov’s influence has been felt by everyone associated with the Wolverines. Even with those who’ve left the organization.

Anchorage product Colten Gerken, 20, played 27 games in parts of the last two seasons for the Wolverines. He was traded to North Iowa in November.

“Ilya is a great guy,” said Gerken, who also played high school hockey at South. “He’d stay with me after practice and feed me 50 one-timers. We worked on blue-line play, how to work in the corners and a lot of things.”

Gerken said Demidov consoled him in the aftermath of his trade out of his hometown.

“I was a little watery eyed,” said Gerken, who is back in Anchorage after the NAHL regular season ended. “He told me everything happens for a reason and would work out. I really appreciated what he said.”

Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

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