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Windigo extend division lead with sweep of Jets

Wisconsin forward Will Schumacher scores a goal during the third period of a game against Janesville Saturday at the Eagle River Sports Arena in Eagle River, Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Nina Bustiuc)

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — During the final weekend of a homestand to open February, the Wisconsin Windigo extended their NAHL Midwest Division lead with a sweep of the Janesville Jets, 6-2 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday at the Eagle River Sports Arena. With the wins, the Windigo improved to 29-10-3-2 on the season thanks to a nine-game winning streak, good for 63 points, an eight-point lead over the Jets.

“We’ve been looking forward to this series for a while,” said Windigo coach Blake Hietala. “The last time the Jets were here, they took two points off of us. The Jets have been playing well, and we knew they would be a tough out this weekend.”

On Friday, the Windigo got on the board 4:30 in when forward Tyler Grahme scored his 16th of the seasonm on a tip of a shot from defenseman Daniil Dolzhenko. Forward Luke Baker also assisted on the play.

Grahme added a second tally at 5:13 when he blasted a one-timer off a pass from forward Will Schumacher. Forward Everett Pietila also earned an assist.

The Jets got one back at 8:39, but as the second period opened, forward Jacob Jastrzebski regained the two-goal Windigo advantage 37 seconds in. Baker and forward Max Martin both assisted on the play.

Janesville again cut the lead in half at 2:20, but that was close as they got.

Schumacher opened the third period with his 26th goal of the season 1:45 in. Martin and defenseman Erick Comstock assisted on the goal.

Goaltender Max Beckford stopped 29 of 31 Jets’ shots to earn the win for Wisconsin.

On Saturday, Grahme again sparked the Windigo’s offense with a goal just 1:26 into the contest. Pietila and Schumacher both earned assists on the goal.

In the second period, forward Braydon Beahm put Wisconsin up 2-0 with a goal 3:10 into the frame. Forward Elliot Gulley earned his 14th assist of the season and foward Sam Groebner picked up the other assist on the goal.

Forward Zach Cline scored at 4:25 to extend the Windigo’s lead. Dolzhenko and forward Logan Nickolaus both assisted on the goal.

Martin then scored his NAHL-leading 33rd goal of the season to make it 4-0 Wisconsin at 11:19. Schumacher and Comstock both picked up assists on the goal.

Both teams battled their way through a number of third-period penalties. The two teams combined for 20 calls in the frame.

Comstock put the game out of reach at 9:38 with a goal off a slapshot from the point. Michigan Tech recruit Quinn Disher and Beahm assisted on the goal.

Goaltender Linards Lipskis stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn both his fifth shutout of the season and his 15th win in the process.

“We challenged our guys to play hard and smart for all 60 minutes (both nights),” Hietala said. “For the most part, we accomplished that. We limited their scoring chances. Beckford and Lipskis were tracking the puck well and made key saves when called upon.”

After relying on their top offensive producers for much of the first half of the season, having more balance in their scoring now has helped the Windigo catch fire, according to Hietala.

“Grahme took control of the game early for us on Friday,” he said. “Schumacher and Pietila are really clicking well with him.

“It was good to see five different guys score on Saturday. Sometimes guys like Beahm, Cline, Gulley, Disher and Nickolaus, get overlooked when you have lines like the Martin, Jastrzebski and Baker line playing so well.”

The Jets challenged the Windigo Saturday night, and Hietala felt that his team did a great job of answering the bell when called upon.

“I like the grit we displayed when we were challenged physically on Saturday,” he said. “We certainly don’t look to play a chippy style of hockey, but, when confronted, our entire lineup won’t back down. I like the way they have each other’s back.”

There are still a number of matchups between the top two teams in the Midwest before the playoffs begin, and Hietala expects that his team will continue to work to earn wins, rather than trips to the penalty box.

“We face Janesville six more times this season,” he said. “We need to continue to keep our composure and focus on beating them on the scoreboard.”

UP NEXT

The Windigo embark on a seven-game road trip. First up is a visit to Janesville, in a rematch with the Jets on Feb. 16-17. The two teams will battle at 8:05 p.m. both nights at the Janesville Ice Arena.

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