Windigo take commanding lead of series with Jets

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Wisconsin forward and Michigan Tech commit Ethan DeKay battles along the boards with a defenseman from Janesville during a game Saturday at the Eagle River Sports Arena in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — The first round of the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup playoffs are a best-of-three scenario. So, if a team can get out to a 2-0 series lead, it is a very valuable start.

The Wisconsin Windigo were in a position to do just that Saturday night at the Eagle River Sports Arena after winning 4-2 on Friday night. Saturday, they battled the Janesville Jets to a 0-0 tie heading into the final 20 minutes before rookie center Jacob Jastrzebski struck twice in 3:07 to put the game out of reach, giving the Windigo a 2-0 win in the game and lead in the series.

Getting that two-game lead quickly was the main focus for the Windigo throughout the night.

“Obviously, a great start for us,” said Windigo coach Blake Hietala, a Houghton native and former Michigan Tech forward. “It’s a good hockey team over there. I didn’t think we were our best (Friday) night, but tonight was a really good playoff effort. (We) didn’t give them much, and then had a couple of opportunities to make plays.

“After last night, we talked about tonight being the biggest game in the series. Obviously, it can put us in a driver’s seat for the rest of the way. We know it’s far from over, but we like the position we’re in.”

Goaltender Matthew Alberti had stymied the Windigo for 40 minutes Saturday night, and when he did not make a save, his posts did the heavy lifting, especially when Wisconsin had back-to-back power plays in the late stages of the middle frame.

Jastrzebski broke through for the Windigo just 37 seconds into the third period when he got the puck in the left circle in the offensive zone, drove deep, almost into the corner, to get around a Jets’ defender, then turned towards the net, and beat Alberti with a backhand. Alberti had stretched out on his stomach to try to poke the puck away from Jastrzebski, which created the opening.

Wingers Logan Nickolaus and Everett Pietila both assisted on the goal.

The goal energized the Windigo bench.

“Definitely felt a little jolt of life onto the bench there,” Hietala said. “I don’t think it was a relief, but probably a little bit of energy provided, and (it) helped us push through for a solid last 20.”

Then, just 3:07 later, Jastrzebski found himself in the slot, and he took advantage of a pass from defenseman Jack Thomas, and he buried a wrist shot, extending the Windigo’s lead to two.

“For a young player, he’s just so mature in his game, plays on the right side of everything,” said Hietala about Jastrzebski. “He wins battles, and then he’s able to contribute offensively as well. He’s just a very complete player for his age.

“It didn’t take him long to adjust to the league. He’s a kid that we can trust to play in all situations and takes important draws. He’s one of our best defensive forwards as well.”

From there, goaltender Max Beckford took over for the Windigo. He stopped all seven shots he saw in the third period, along with the other 22 he saw over the first 40 minutes to earn a shutout.

“He gives us a chance to win every night, which is all we can ask for,” Hietala said. “He’s bailed us out a handful of times this year. Our guys recognize that, and try to play hard in front of him as well.”

His toughest stretch came in the game’s final 3:26, as the Windigo were whistled for a penalty, and the Jets took advantage of the odd-numbered situation by pulling Alberti during the power play to get to a two-man advantage, 6-on-4, but time and time again, Beckford came up with the necessary save to keep them scoreless.

“He’s a calming influence in the net,” said Hietala. “Our guys feed off of that as well.

“I liked our last three minutes. (We) got it out as a group.”

One of Friday night’s heroes, winger Ethan DeKay, did not figure in the scoring on Saturday, but he was strong on the forecheck, especially in the first period, which helped create scoring chances, including one by center Tyler Grahme in the slot 9:31 into the game.


DeKay, who is committed to Michigan Tech, scored a goal for the Windigo Friday night in the third period to put the game out of reach. Another Michigan Tech recruit, winger Quinn Disher, picked up an assist on winger Braydon Beahm’s tally at 4:21 of the second period, which evened the game at 1-1.


The NAHL’s leading scorer in the regular season, co-captain Max Martin, picked up two assists Friday night, the first on a goal by Grahme at 16:25 of second period, putting Wisconsin up 3-1 at the time. His second came on DeKay’s goal in the third period.


The Austin Bruins, who feature three Copper Country players in Austin Salani, Jackson Rilei, and Camden Markham, dropped the first two games of their playoff series against the Minot Minotauros, 9-1 and 3-1, this past weekend.

Rilei earned an assist in Friday’s loss on a goal by Will Diamond at 8:28 of the second period. The goal made it 4-1 in favor of the Minotauros at the time.

Minot added five more goals before the game ended.

Saturday night, Minot jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Bruins scored. Salani earned an assist on the Austin goal, which was scored by John Hirschfield at 17:05 of the third period.


With the Windigo up 2-0, the series shifts this weekend to Janesville, where Wisconsin will have two chances to seal the series with a single victory. If they lose both games Friday and Saturday night, the two teams will return to Eagle River on Sunday night for a fifth and deciding game at the Eagle River Sports Arena at 7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

The Bruins return to action at home on Friday night, looking to force a Game Five in Minot on Monday, April 29. Their two games at home will start at 8:05 p.m. Eastern. If necessary, the deciding game in Minot will start Monday at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.


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