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HOCKEY

Wolverines bid a season’s adieu to Anchorage with 6-3 playoff win and 2-0 series lead in Midwest Finals

by | May 5, 2024 | Cover Story, Hockey

A Wolverines’ fan hits ’em with the ‘Night, Night’ celebration. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Like they had 33 times before during the season, the Anchorage Wolverines congregated around the center ice circle at game’s end and offered their fans the customary stick salute. Only Saturday’s thank-yous felt like something more.

A number of the Wolverines also raced towards Ben Boeke Arena’s west end and jumped high into the plexiglass as people pounded the acrylic in kind. A few minutes removed from a dressing room session, most of the team found their way to the lobby to sign autographs and pose for a photo or two.

The Wolverines, 6-3 winners of Game 2 of the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division Finals over the visiting Wisconsin Windigo, sit four wins away from winning Anchorage a national championship. But first, they knew to give their adoring supporters a heartfelt, appreciative good-bye.

“It’s really hard to put into words,” said Wolverines’ second-year forward Kade Shea, who entertained the masses via a third-period fight. “The atmosphere here and the community. We have some of the best fans in this league.”

Japanese-born snipe Tai Ushio turned in a four-point performance, including his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season, while Tyler Hennen and Cole Christian each registered their team-best fourth postseason scores. Anchorage opened a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 Robertson Cup series, which once again shifts Outside courtesy of geography and economics despite the Wolverines’ higher seeding.

Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Game 3 is set for Friday in Wisconsin. One more win clinches a berth in the NAHL final four for the second time in the Wolverines’ three seasons of existence.

But the remainder of the work must be done outside of Anchorage. At home, the Wolverines finished with a 27-5-2 mark combined in the regular and postseason (.808 winning percentage).

“We kind of went business as usual with the start of this one because we didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Wolverines’ first-year coach Nick Walters said of the season’s potential and eventual last home game. “But it’s something I’m going to address here (postgame) because it was pretty special. A great crowd and for some of our 20-year-olds, it’s the last junior game at home.”

Announced capacity at Boeke is 963 fans. A more exuberant audience was on hand for Game 2, then the 884 announced for Friday’s Game 1 – a 3-2 Anchorage win. From an organizational standpoint, the Wolverines have made the best of playing in the compacted space offered in the 50-year-old barn. This offseason offers intrigue as the neighboring Sullivan Arena potentially becomes a viable venue for the Wolverines and maybe even the University of Alaska Anchorage NCAA Division I program.

All that will eventually get sorted out. Currently, the Wolverines will need more success away from home to reach their primary goal.

“Obviously, we feed off the energy here,” said Shea, who was wearing the Wolverines’ trusty player-of-the game headwear, a replica of the lid made famous by Woody from ‘Toy Story.’ “But we’re a hockey team, we want to win games no matter where we’re playing.

“We just need to stick to what makes us – us.”

Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Wisconsin is no slouch on home ice. The Windigo sport a 26-4-2 record at the Eagle River (Wisc.) Sports Arena. They won games there twice over Anchorage on Feb. 2 and 3.

“We know we have a couple things to clean up (when we get home),” Wisconsin coach Blake Hietala said. “We just have to have belief in that room that we can come back from this (deficit).

“We do have a very good home record and have been good in that building all year. That’ll be our focus and we’ll see what happens.”

Anchorage scored three times in Saturday’s first period, once in the second and twice in the third. Wisconsin made sure the tension stuck around by scoring twice in the first half of the third.

Anchorage’s Liam Beerman made 22 saves for the goaltending win. The Wolverines chased Windigo starter Max Beckford after the first period.

Liam Beerman was strong again in net for the Wolverines. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Let us now turn attention to a “you can watch hockey all your life and never see this” moment.

At 5 minutes, 55 seconds of the second period, Anchorage leading scorer Fedya Nikolayenia potted what was thought to be the Wolverines’ fifth goal. About 30 seconds prior, Ushio lost his right glove just inside the Wisconsin blue line. A few more moments passed and someone from the Wolverines bench threw his glove in Ushio’s direction, seemingly prompted by communication on the bench.

Normally when players break a stick or lose a glove, they skate to the bench and swiftly pick up a replacement. Uh, a teammate can’t airmail you one. After Nikolayenya appeared to have scored, the officials chatted for quite a while. The goal was waved off and Anchorage received an interference bench minor for the glove toss.

“I understand the rule, it’s got to be a handoff and obviously not thrown on the ice,” a relieved Walters said postgame. “There was some confusion. Now that the game is over, I can say I feel like I learn more about the rules every day.”

The Wolverines certainly can laugh things off for a day or two. Then it’s back to business.

“Going into Wisconsin’s barn will be difficult,” Ushio said. “But all we need is that one more win and we’re off the (NAHL final four).”

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

Anchorage Wolverines vs. Wisconsin Windigo (ANC leads 2-0)
Game 2 – Anchorage 6, Wisconsin 3
Game 3 – May 10 @ WIS, 4 p.m. AKDT
Central Division
Minot Minotauros vs. Bismarck Bobcats (MNT leads 2-0)
Game 2 – Minot 6, Bismarck 2
Game 3 – May 10 @ BIS, 4:15 p.m.
East Division
Maryland Black Bears vs. Maine Nordiques (Series tied 1-1)
Game 2 – Maryland 1, Maine 0
Game 3 – May 10 @ MNE, 3:30 p.m.
South Division
Lone Star Brahmas vs. Shreveport Mudbugs (Series tied 1-1)
Game 2 – Lone Star 3, Shreveport 2
Game 3 – May 10 @ SHV, 4:11 p.m.

Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

ONE-TIMERS
  • If Anchorage advances to the Robertson Cup best-of-three semifinals, the first game is set to take place May 17 in Blaine, Minn. The winner-take-all, single championship game arrives May 21. The Wolverines advanced to the May 24, 2022 title tilt, where they dropped a 3-0 decision to the New Jersey Titans.
  • Anchorage now owns a 13-3 playoff record – 5-1 this go-around.
  • Alaska’s NCAA Division I squads were well represented over the weekend. UAA assistant coach Aaron McPheters was spotted Friday. During Saturday’s postgame, UAF coach Erik Largen chatted with Nanooks commits Bryce Monrean and Nikolayenia as well as a few other players.
  • The need and display of friendly corporate or sponsorship of any kind is nothing new to sports. An NHL franchise’s fan base went into a full social-media lather earlier this season when a company logo debuted on the front of the team’s iconic sweater. The Wolverines have played all three seasons with the names of business sponsors along the lower bottom of their sweaters. Wisconsin plays in the town of Eagle River, population of about 1,600, and it receives some bang for its marketing buck. The back of the Windigo’s black, blue and silver jerseys showcase the city’s logo below the numbers and eagleriver.org/ above them.

Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Story made possible by:

Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson

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Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Alaska Airlines | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Joe Alston | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Aspen Endodontics | Glen Bailey | Kathie Bethard | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Continental Auto Group | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris | The Conway Family | Donley Family | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Foley & Pearson | JL Properties | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Amy and Jason Miller | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | Rick Mystrom | Kathleen Navarre | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Dave and DeAnne Rand | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Replacement Glass | Residential Mortgage | RSA Engineering- Sarah & A.J. Schirack | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Peter Pounds | Dan Rufner | Harlow Robinson | Pete Robinson | Moria Smith | Taylored Restoration | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Team Heat | Todd Whited | UAA Seawolves | Don Winchester

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

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