Anchorage Wolverines open playoffs with bounce-back shutout win

Apr. 20—The Anchorage Wolverines were rolling down the stretch of the regular season. The team went 19 straight games without losing a game in regulation — a stretch that included a franchise-record, 12-game winning streak. But the Wolverines lost a pair of games in last week's finale on the road to in-state rival Fairbanks heading into the Robertson Cup playoffs.

Anchorage rebounded in a major way on Friday night against the visiting Minnesota Wilderness at a jampacked Ben Boeke Ice Arena. The team treated the Wolverines faithful to a dominant 4-0 shutout to notch their first win of the best-of-5 series.

"We turned the page," Wolverines head coach Nick Walters said. "It's a new season, but I think that because you had so much success during the (regular) season, you want to replicate that and those are the things that you are constantly thinking about."

Anchorage goalie Liam Beerman said the team had put the final regular-season weekend far in the rear-view mirror.

"Obviously you're going to have weekends when you don't play your best or get the results you want, but this was a good bounce-back win for us tonight," Beerman said.

After missing out on the playoffs last year, the Wolverines already feel some postseason confidence following a commanding win over an opponent who had their number in the regular season. Minnesota held a 4-2 head-to-head record entering Friday.

"Coming off a tough sweep in Fairbanks and these guys kind of had our number all year, it was a big point for us to get after them tonight because it was going to set a tone for the rest of the weekend," Beerman said.

While losing is never fun, especially to close out the season, Walters believes last weekend was the wake-up call they needed to get their collective minds right and refocus for the playoffs.

"I think when things like that happen positively or negatively or adversely or whatever you want to call it, as a coach, you have to find the silver lining in those types of things," he said. "That might have been the kick in the ass we needed."

The two-game skid made them reevaluate how they practice and reminded them to not underestimate any opponent.

"It was probably needed," Walters said. "I think we were finally due to lay an egg and we did. I'm glad it happened and hopefully, it doesn't happen here in the postseason."

The opening period of Friday's game came and went with 20 combined shots on goal between the two teams but nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. However, the second period was when the home team began to take control of the game.

Anchorage's own Bryce Monrean drew first blood with 15:06 left in the second period, and Cole Christian made it 2-0 at the 7:23 mark.

"The first period was a little bit of a feeling-out process for everybody," Walters said. "I could sense a little bit of tension, guys were a little more quiet on the bench, but halfway through the second (period) you could just see us starting to gain that momentum and confidence with the puck and we just started to score goals."

The Wolverines continued to produce in the final period, taking on two more goals from a pair of different players. Tyler Hennen made it 3-0 when he found the back of the net at the 15:04 mark, and Oliver Salo scored the fourth with just over two minutes left in the game.

"That's where we wanted to get to all year," Walters said. "It takes a little bit of tinkering sometimes, putting the right line combos together, finding the right pieces but we wanted to get to a point where we had four lines that were capable of scoring. Anytime you have four different guys putting the puck in the back of the net, that's a good thing."

On the final goal, Beerman was credited for an assist for just the second time this season and the first since November.

"I didn't make a save on the other one; I just kind of threw it up, and we went down and scored," he said.

Beerman was lights out in front of the home team net all night, making 33 saves and playing a huge role in their perfect penalty kill.

"He was dialed (in)," Walters said. "The assist was awesome, but the save before that are the saves that you need your goaltender to make in big moments. All year you try to teach these guys how to play in big moments, so it's good to see him have that big moment late in the game."

The Wolverines will be back in action on Saturday night at 7 p.m. and depending on the results of that game, they could be staying in town for the third game of the best-of-five series. If Anchorage prevails on Saturday, game three will be in Minnesota but should they fall and tie the series 1-1, it will be back at the Ben on Sunday at 4 p.m.

"It sounds cliche, but it's just one game at a time," Walters said. "I told the guys we got to have a short memory on this one. This one is over, and let's just worry about the 60 minutes tomorrow and then we'll move on."