24 in 24 Series: Minnesota Wilderness
August 30, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Tim Madsen (1st year)
2015-16 record: 34-18-8, 76 pts. (3rd in the Midwest Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Koby Bender (48 points)
2016 Playoffs: Lost in the Midwest Division Finals to Fairbanks, 3-2
2016-17 Division: Central
First regular season game: Friday, September 16th @ Janesville Jets
Home opener: Friday, October 14th vs. Aberdeen Wings
The Minnesota Wilderness had one of the busiest seasons and off-seasons of anyone in the NAHL and it was filled with peaks and valleys. In May of 2015, the Wilderness became the first Minnesota-based team to win the Robertson Cup. That summer included tours and celebrations, but the team knew it had to get back to work immediately to try and defend their title.
The Wilderness got everyone’s best game almost every night and still managed to win 34 games. They beat Janesville in the Midwest Semis and then faced Fairbanks in the Division Finals. After a stretch that included seven one-goal games and five overtime games in a row, the Wilderness bowed out in the decisive Game 5 of the series and the Ice Dogs went onto capture the Robertson Cup title. 13 players ended up securing NCAA commitments, which was another outstanding total for the club.
Just three days later, the Wilderness parted ways with the only coach they had known, Corey Millen. Two sides that were going in a different direction sparked the decision, and so the search for a new bench boss was on. Just a week later, Tim Madsen was named the new head coach of the Wilderness. Madsen had certainly paid his dues as an assistant coach with Niagara University at the NCAA Division I level for seven seasons and prior to that he won a Robertson Cup as an assistant with St. Louis during the 2008-09 season. “Tim is a tireless worker and passionate about hockey”, stated General Manager Dave Boitz. “He’s been a part of multiple championships and he coaches the game the way he played the game.”
For Madsen, a native of Elk River, MN, the chance to coach a new team in his home state was a challenge he's been waiting for. "The night before our first practice, it was like I was a peewee again and had a game the next day. I didn't sleep a lot that night. It's exciting " he said. “The common goal is going to be the similar to that of before, and that’s winning, moving players on and, most importantly, being overly active in the community,” said Madsen. “I think the ultimate goal remains winning the Robertson Cup. There is not going to be a day that goes by that we don’t talk about it. The smaller picture goal is just getting better each day.”
For the 2016-17 season, the Wilderness will have some new challenges as they move to the Central Division, which is something Madsen is excited about. “There are a lot of well respected coaches in the division. They are guys that run good programs and who I respect, so we are really looking forward to the challenge of creating some new rivalries,” said Madsen. The Wilderness will be tested right away out of the gate with a road series against old Midwest Division rival Janesville. It is then off to the annual NAHL Showcase where they will play New Jersey, Johnstown, Topeka and Kenai River.
Madsen welcomes the challenge of an event he has spent so many years coming to as an NCAA scout, but now will be behind the bench. “I think playing four games in four days is a great challenge. On top of that, you factor in all the scouts that are there and the importance of the games counting in the regular season, and I think it makes for a very special event,” said Madsen.
“As someone who actively scouted the NAHL for the past seven years, the number of commitments that keep increasing each season is a real testament to the league, its owners, its coaches and its players. It also is a testament to the hard work that Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld and the NAHL staff have put into it. The respect for the NAHL is at an all-time high, and I say that because that’s the belief among my former NCAA peers,” said Madsen. “Really good players want to come play in the league and I think that speaks volumes.”
Madsen said that his team will work hard from the get go to establish a positive identity. “Off the ice, we want to be active in the community. We want to bring in good people and create a great atmosphere in the lockerroom. On the ice, we are going to see what we have and then let the players mold into a team identity.”
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Minot Minotauros