24 in 24: Minnesota Wilderness
September 3, 2018
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2018-19 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 24 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: Dave Boitz (1st Year)
2017-18 record: 33-21-6, 72 pts. (3rd in the Central Division)
2017-18 leading scorer: Eric Gotz (47 pts.)
2018 Playoffs: Lost to the Austin Bruins in the Central Division Semi-Finals, 3 games to 1
2018-19 Division: Central
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 19th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks
Home opener: Friday, September 28th vs. Aberdeen Wings
2017-18 was another solid season for the Wilderness. The club was in the thick of the Central Division playoff race all season long and found themselves in a virtual dead heat with the Austin Bruins for 2nd place at the end of the season with the same number of wins, but two points behind. Home ice advantage would prove to be crucial in the series as the Bruins won 3-1 to end the Wilderness’ season. A total of eight players would also end up with NCAA commitments.
The off-season was one of change for the Wilderness despite the fact that they have consistently been a playoff team in the Central Division. Wilderness Head Coach Tim Madsen moved onto the NCAA and accepted the same position at St. Scholastica College, an NCAA Division III program in Duluth, Minnesota.
The Wilderness found their new bench boss within the organization as General Manager Dave Boitz decided to step back behind the bench and take on both roles with the team. Boitz is no stranger to coaching in the NAHL. He has spent nine seasons as either a head coach or general manager with the Alexandria Blizzard, North Iowa Outlaws, Alaska Avalanche, and Wilderness. He helped the North Iowa Outlaws to a division title and NAHL Organization of the Year during the 2007-08 season and during the recent 2017-18 season he was named the Central Division’s General Manager of the Year with the Wilderness.
“I am excited to be back coaching again. I hope it is just riding a bike. I love being a part of the NAHL and the Wilderness organization. What I enjoy most is working with the players and helping them achieve their hockey and educational goals,” said Boitz. “The league has come such a long way in a relatively short time. I started in the NAHL about 15 years ago and we were excited to get two or three commitments, but now it seems like every year teams are averaging at least a dozen commitments. I am really proud to be a part of it.”
Boitz says that while the team was in the thick of the playoff race again last year, he hopes to get off to a better start in 2018-19, which he hopes will help them make a return to the Robertson Cup. “I think we fell short of our goals last year. We were one win away back in 2017 of going to the Robertson Cup and after we won it back in 2015, I think you get a feeling of what that is like and you want to do it again. I think we had a tough start to the season and that puts you behind the 8-ball right away, which is something we want to avoid this season. I was proud of the way the guys and the staff persevered through it and were able to make the playoffs,” said Boitz.
The Wilderness will have the benefit of returning some key veterans to the line-up in 2018-19, particularly on the offensive side. Some of the returning forwards coming back from last year’s team include Gino Lucia (43 pts.), Luke Dow (42 pts.), Isaac Kobienia (34 pts.), and Ash Altmann (12 pts.). In goal, Ryan Fanti returns between the pipes after playing 36 games last year as a rookie. Fanti was named to the Central Division All-Rookie Team in 2017-18 and was 12th in the NAHL last season with a .922 save percentage.
“We have a lot of talented forwards coming back in addition to our starting goalie, so our focus through the draft and throughout the camps was to sure up our defense. We have four of our top five scorers returning, so hopefully we can lean on them to get off to a better start and create some offense. There is a lot of veteran leadership there and some guys that put up some big numbers, so we expect an even better season. I am also excited about the young talent coming in,” said Boitz.
Beyond getting a better start, the goals remain consistent as when the Wilderness won the Cup back in 2015. “Our first goal this season is to get as many of these players committed to the NCAA as possible. With that said, I think that goes hand in hand with a successful team on the ice. When you look at the teams that are in the Robertson Cup Finals every season, one of the things they all have in common is that they have a lot of NCAA commitments. There is a correlation there that spells success,” said Boitz.
Up next in the 24 in 24 series: Minot Minotauros