NA Now: Minnesota Wilderness
The NA Now series features a look at all 29 teams in the NAHL for the 2022-23 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the 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: Dave Boitz (6th Season)
2021-22 record: 60 GP, 35-23-2, 72 pts. (4th in the Midwest Division)
2021-22 leading scorer: Nicholas Rexine (61 points)
2022 Playoffs: Lost to Anchorage in the Midwest Division Finals, 3-1
2022-23 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 9th vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Home opener: Friday, September 9th vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Last season was a wild ride for the Minnesota Wilderness, which was highlighted by another trip to the playoffs and some more notable player advancement. The season started off fine for the club, but as late November approached, the team took a nosedive that included a nine-game slide towards the end of December. However, the team rebounded to win 21 of their 28 games the second half of the season and qualify for the Roberson Cup Playoffs for a second straight season.
As the #4 seed, the Wilderness stunned the #1 seeded Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the Midwest Division Semi-Finals. The Wilderness went down 0-2 in the series, but then won three straight games at home to advance to the Division Finals. Unfortunately, the Wilderness ran into a red-hot Anchorage Wolverines team that would end their season thanks to a 3-1 series win.
Not lost in the on-ice shuffle was the 11 players on the roster finishing the season with NCAA commitments, including nine Division I commitments. As a bonus, the Wilderness also saw two players taken in the 2022 NHL Draft as forward Barrett Hall was selected #164 overall in the 6th round by the Seattle Kraken and former forward Zam Plante (2020-21) was selected #150 overall in Round 5 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I thought last season went well. We battled through some adversity with some injuries, but we really had a great run during the second half of the season. We were playing as well as anyone in the division at the end of the year, so the fact that we made the playoffs and then had a chance to play in the Division Finals was a testament to where we were competitively at the end of the season,” said Wilderness head coach and general manager Dave Boitz. “We are also very proud of what we have been able to accomplish with commitments to high-end NCAA programs. In addition, I think it was a real feather in the cap of our organization to also see a couple of players taken in the NHL Draft. Seeing our players grow and develop to the point where they are earning NCAA commitments and getting drafted is a great source of pride for us.”
Watch: Interview with Wilderness head coach Dave Boitz
Boitz will have an entirely new staff assisting him behind the bench this season. The Wilderness hired Brett Skinner as the team’s new associate head coach and Kyle Brodie as an assistant coach. Skinner, who played in NHL for the New York Islanders and collegiately for the University of Denver, had spent the last five seasons as an assistant in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede. Brodie played two seasons in the NAHL, totaling 81 regular season games and 48 points, and would later go onto play NCAA Division I hockey at Bemidji State.
“We are lucky and happy to have Brett and Kyle. Brett had a great playing career, which included back-to-back National Championships at Denver and followed that up with a great pro career. He has really paid his dues as an assistant coach in the USHL, so we hope this is a good next step for him and the Wilderness,” said Boitz. “We are also pleased to have Kyle on staff as he knows exactly what’s it’s like to be an NAHL player.”
As for the 2022-23 season, Boitz said that the most immediate need will be to find some high-end scoring. The Wilderness offense ranked 7th last year in the NAHL at 3.6 goals per game. “We have a handful of guys that we think are going to be able to step in and have the necessary experience playing with us in the NAHL and lead this team. They are all guys that played a big part of team last year, but who will be looked to fulfill different types of roles this year, especially when it comes to our offensive production,” said Boitz.
Some of key returning players that Boitz referred to are forwards Charlie Erickson, Cole Gordon, Bryce Howard, and Calvin Knight, along with defensemen Severi Sulonen and Ren Morque, along with goalie Konrad Kausch. “We are excited to get things rolling. We have a heavy home schedule to start the season. We had a great record at home last year, so hopefully that’s something we can continue to see this season to get the year started on the right note,” said Boitz.
Next Up: Maryland Black Bears