Minnesota Wilderness goaltender Isak Posch saves a breakaway by Kenai River Brown Bears forward Garett Drotts on Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Minnesota Wilderness goaltender Isak Posch saves a breakaway by Kenai River Brown Bears forward Garett Drotts on Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

Wilderness win in OT, sweep Brown Bears

The Minnesota Wilderness swept a Midwest Division semifinal series from the Kenai River Brown Bears with a 2-1 overtime victory Friday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

The Wilderness ended it just 51 seconds into overtime with a power-play goal.

Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said it appeared the Bears had won a defensive zone faceoff, but a weird bounce allowed Michael Quinn to get the puck in front of Bears goalie Nils Wallstrom.

Quinn, assisted by Kevin Marx Noren and Sawyer Scholl, was able to put the puck over Wallstrom’s shoulder.

The shot put the No. 2 seed Wilderness into the Midwest Division final against the No. 1 Wisconsin Windigo, who swept the No. 4 Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel on Friday.

Kenai River outshot the Wilderness 36-21 Friday, but Minnesota goalie Isak Posch and the Wilderness defense — which gave up the fewest goals in the division — once again stood tall against the Bears.

Posch played in all eight games against Kenai River this season and allowed more than one goal only once. His only loss against Kenai River came in a 1-0 shootout.

“I was really pleased with our group today,” Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said. “Obviously, that’s not the way we wanted it to end.”

Buoyed on by a full building of fans seeing their first home playoff game since 2014, Shaw said his squad was able to create offensive zone pressure for large portions of the game.

Kenai River outshot Minnesota 10-6 in the first period and 20-7 in the second period. The shots were even at 6 in the third.

“Even when they had a little bit of possession, I didn’t think we gave up a ton,” Shaw said. “In the third period, we only gave up five or six shots.

“It was really tight. That’s playoff hockey.”

After a first period in which the Bears were the aggressor and Noah Holt hit the pipe at the 10:02 mark, Nick Stevens put Kenai River up 1-0 with 14:25 left in the second period on assists from Hayden Walters and Luke Anderson.

Stevens was able to collect a rebound, skate the puck across the net and slot home a backhand.

Marx Noren, who tied for the league lead in goals in the regular season with 34, answered with his third goal of the series with 9:39 left in the second.

After a Kenai River defender batted down a shot from the point, Marx Noren collected the puck and scored.

With 6:55 left in the second period, Posch turned back a breakaway from Garett Drotts, a Division I commit who was ninth in the league with 27 goals during the regular season.

The third period and overtime would be a tale of power plays.

Kenai River earned a power play with 12:28 left and had several chances but could not convert. The Bears did use that power play to tilt the ice back in their favor.

With 1:02 left in the third, Minnesota went on the power play and was able to convert that power play in overtime.

The power play was the difference in the series. Minnesota won Game 1 3-1 and was 1 for 4 with the extra man, while the Bears were 0 for 2. Game 2 was 2-1 with the Wilderness finishing 1 for 4 on the power play and the Bears going 0 for 2.

Friday, Minnesota was 1 for 1 and the Bears were 0 for 1.

Posch had 35 saves while Nils Wallstrom saved 19 for the Bears. Both goalies are committed to Division I schools.

“Everybody expected it to be a goalie duel,” Shaw said. “Nils had a big save in the first period that kept us in it.

“Posch is committed for a reason. He certainly was a big part of them winning.”

The Brown Bears were 14-41-3-2 in 2021-22, the second worst record in the league.

The team came back this season to set a new franchise record for wins with a 32-24-3-1 record. Kenai River used a 12-5-1-0 to clinch playoff spot on April 7.

“I told our group that they just did an incredible job to get this thing back on track,” Shaw said. “That was the goal for all the guys coming back, but starting right away in August they knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“The guys in the locker room are the ones that laid a new foundation. All the accomplishments this year are a result of them putting in the work. What happened tonight hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but it will be part of the fuel in the offseason to work that much harder.”

Kenai River was making an eighth playoff berth in the franchise’s 16 seasons. The Bears are now 1-8 in those playoff series, but Shaw said that hasn’t kept the community from forming a special bond with the team.

“It was packed,” Shaw said. “Like I said earlier in the week, it’s special for our group to have the support of this community.

“When players show up in the grocery store or a restaurant, people know who they are. You don’t get that in many junior hockey communities. For our guys to have that here, in such a special place, means so much.”

Friday

Wilderness 2, Brown Bears 1, OT

Minnesota 0 1 0 1 —2

Kenai River 0 1 0 0 —1

First period — none. Penalties — none.

Second period — 1. Kenai River, Stevens (Walters, L. Anderson), 5:35; 2. Minnesota, Marx Noren (un.), 10:21. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Third period — none. Penalties — Minnesota 1 for 2:00; Kenai River 1 for 2:00.

Overtime — 3. Minnesota, Quinn (Marx Noren, Scholl), pp, 0:51.

Shots on goal — Minnesota 6-7-6-2—21; Kenai River 10-20-6-0—36.

Goalies — Minnesota, Posch (36 shots, 35 saves); Kenai River, Wallstrom (21 shots, 19 saves).

Power plays — Minnesota 1 for 1; Kenai River 0 for 1.

The Kenai River Brown Bears celebrate a second-period goal by Nick Stevens on Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

The Kenai River Brown Bears celebrate a second-period goal by Nick Stevens on Friday, April 28, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak)

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