Best finish possible: Windigo finish regular season with win, wait to find out who they will face in playoffs

Wisconsin forward Max Martin carries the puck up the ice during a game against Chippewa Saturday at the Eagle River Sports Arena in Eagle River, Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Iverson)

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — With a 5-2 win on Saturday over the visiting Chippewa Steel, the Wisconsin Windigo closed out the regular season with a record of 39-15-3-3, good for 84 points, at the Eagle River Sports Sports Arena.

The win gave the Windigo 84 points in 60 games played, which has them in first place in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division. However, the Anchorage Wolverines have two games in hand on Wisconsin, and could still finish as the top seed.

The Windigo will be hosting the opening round of the NAHL’s Robertson Cup playoffs Friday, April, 19, against either the Janesville Jets or the Minnesota Wilderness, depending on how the Wolverines do this coming weekend. If the Wolverines win the division, the Windigo will play the Jets, if the Windigo share the division title, they will host the Wilderness.

“I was proud of the way the guys were able to finish out the regular season on a strong note and not let off the gas,” said Windigo coach Blake Hietala. “We controlled the pace of play, and were able to show throughout the full 60 minutes that we are a team on a mission going into playoffs.”

In Saturday’s matchup with the Steel, Wisconsin struck first when co-captain Max Martin scored his league-leading 44th goal of the season 9:05 in. Forwards Logan Nickolaus and Jacob Jastrzebski both picked up assists on the goal, with Nickolaus getting the primary assist after feeding the puck to Martin on the back door.

Chippewa evened the game 7:01 later.

Looking to get back into the lead in the middle frame, the Windigo were able to do that when Michigan Tech recruit Ethan DeKay scored his fourth goal of the year at 7:48 while on a breakaway. Nickolaus, who created the turnover that DeKay snatched up, earned an assist on the play.

Forward Zach Cline then extended the lead for Wisconsin just under three minutes later when he batted home a rebound at 10:46. Defenseman Cashen Naeve took the initial shot. Jastrzebski picked up the second assist.

Needing a way back into the game, the Steel got it at 1:11, making it a one-goal contest at that point. However, the Windigo responded at 3:46 as forward Braydon Beahm took a lead pass from Nickolaus and scored on a breakaway while shorthanded. Forward Samuel Groebner also assisted on the tally.

Defenseman Carter Theissen put the game out of reach with 11 seconds left when he scored an empty net goal. Defenseman Jack Thomas and Cline both picked up assists.

Goaltender Max Beckford stopped 22 of 24 shots the Steel threw his way to earn his 18th victory of the season.

Hietala, a Houghton native and former Michigan Tech forward, was proud of the support the Windigo received for their final home game of the season.

“The atmosphere was great,” he said. “We appreciate the fans injecting energy into our game. That is what we expect to see in the playoffs with the intensity and fast pace play combined with the energy from the crowd.”

With the regular season completed for Wisconsin, their coach feels that his group has accomplished all that it could. He felt that the team did a lot of really good things in their final tuneup for the upcoming postseason.

“Overall, we have a talented group of guys that battled all year and have put themselves in a good position heading into playoffs,” he said. “Beckford was solid in net, limiting their second chance opportunities, which is also a testament to the defensive core. The forwards worked hard and created chaos in the offensive zone with a heavy forecheck that lead to some quality chances for us. I like where our game is at and I’m excited to carry this momentum into playoffs.”


Regardless of who the Windigo face in the Robertson Cup playoffs first, the first two games will be April 19 and 20, at 8 p.m. at the Eagle River Sports Arena.


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