Windigo season comes to an end with playoff loss

EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — Coming into Game Three of their North American Hockey League Midwest Division championship series, the Wisconsin Windigo knew their backs were against the wall as they needed to win three straight games within the friendly confines of the Eagle River Sports Arena to advance.

For nearly 18 minutes, things were going well. The Windigo and the Anchorage Wolverines were deadlocked at 0-0 until Cole Frawner found the net for his first goal of the playoffs, putting Wisconsin down heading into the first intermission despite outshooting the Wolverines 12-9 for the period.

The second period did not get much better, as the Wolverines struck twice in a little over nine minutes to put the game out of reach before the middle frame came to a close.

Wisconsin continued to put pressure on Marquette native Liam Beerman in the third period, but could not find a goal before the final buzzer sounded, ending their season, 3-0.

“It’s difficult to find a bright spot in the type of game we played,” said coach Blake Hietala. “We did come out fairly strong, and controlled much of the first period. Their first goal was a bit of puck luck for them, a missed play by our goalie, and a back breaker for us.

“They were on a 1-on-2 rush, and their guy simply threw the puck on net from the far boards. We didn’t seem ready for that shot. That play typified the type of series we had against Anchorage.”

Hietala, a Houghton native and former Michigan Tech Huskies player, could not help but be frustrated with how the series went. While the Windigo was a very good team offensively, including having the league’s leader scorer in co-captain Max Martin, when they needed goals, they often found pipes, or defenders’ bodies, instead of the net.

“This is certainly a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “Going into the series, I felt good about our chances. We had one of the top offenses in the league all season, but we struggled to find the net all series. They were very effective at blocking shots and breaking up our passes.”

Hietala felt that the play of Beerman, who made 35 saves to earn the shutout in the series’ deciding game, was a difference-maker, while his team’s goaltending struggled to match his effort.

“Beerman deserves credit for getting the job done in net,” Hietala said. “They had several shots this series that found the back of our net that we’d like to have back.”

The Windigo lost the regular season Midwest Division title to the Wolverines, and Hietala felt that might have had an impact on the series.

“Looking back, perhaps home ice advantage would have helped,” he said. “Losing the regular season championship to them by just one point came back to haunt us. Who knows, if we get them at home the first weekend of the series…maybe we get the jump on them.

“Unfortunately, the opposite happened.”


Friday’s game marked the end of the junior hockey career for several Windigo players, whose age will make them ineligible to play junior hockey next season.

Martin departs for Bowling Green State. Sam Groebner will attend West Point and play for Army next season. Max Beckford will stop pucks for Bentley.

Forward Quinn Disher will suit up for Michigan Tech University.

Everett Pietila, Jack Thomas, Carter Theissen and Linards Lipskis, all concluded their junior careers, and are also pursuing opportunities to play college hockey next year.

“Overall, I’m proud of the season we had,” said Hietala. “I wish the best to the age outs. We will miss them. We’ve got a great group of guys coming back. We will be very competitive again next season.”


For the Windigo, preparation for next season has already begun. They will host pre-draft camps in Hudson, Wisconsin (May 24-26) and Livonia (May 31-June 2). The NAHL draft will be held on June 12. Returning, tendered and drafted, players will attend the Windigo main tryout camp to be held in Hudson, July 31 through Aug. 4.

The 2024-25 schedule will be announced shortly after the draft.


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