Wilderness, Knights certainly impressive with winning ways

There’s nothing quite like a winning streak to get sports fans excited, especially when it gets into the double digits.
That’s the situation in the SIJHL and OHL these days as two of the top franchises in each league currently are on lengthy win streaks at Christmastime.
Following a 5-2 win over the Thunder Bay North Stars on Sunday in Duluth during the annual SIJHL “Showcase” event, the two-time and defending Bill Salonen Cup champion Minnesota Wilderness now have prevailed in 17-consecutive contests and hold a 21-point lead over the second-place Dryden Ice Dogs.
But while their 29-3 record is extremely impressive, head coach and general manager Rod Aldoff is making sure his squad is staying focused on the task at hand.
“You try to not get caught up too much into that kind of stuff,” he stressed. “We know that we have to come to work every night, no matter where we are at, and play good hockey.
“That’s how you have to play.”
That approach is something the players are buying into so far as the Wilderness haven’t lost a game since a 4-3 setback in Cloquet to the Fort Frances Lakers back on Oct. 24, and now are ranked second in the CJHL’s top 20.
“We’ve been really focused on each game and coming out as hard as we can every day,” noted second-year forward Danny Bartkowiak.
“It’s a big honour to be ranked that high, but we need to make sure that we are taking care of business,” he stressed.
Coming off of two-straight championships in Spooner, Wis., the Wilderness moved to Cloquet during the off-season and seemingly have had no major hiccups in their transition as they have continue to be the team to beat in the SIJHL.
“The thing that is the most similar about this team compared to the last two is that all 20 guys are good people,” Aldoff said.
“There’s a good atmosphere here and the guys enjoy being with each other every day, and that is something that is first and foremost for me as a coach.
“We’ve been able to accomplish that here again this year, and with the guys playing great hockey, we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to be successful,” he added.
While the Wilderness’ streak is impressive, it can be viewed as quite tame compared to the run the London Knights currently are on. The defending OHL champs are on a 21-game win streak that’s the third-longest in OHL history.
“It has been incredible to watch, but the strangest thing about this is that the team itself wasn’t really talking much about it as the streak got to 14 or 15 wins,” noted longtime Knights’ radio announcer Mike Stubbs noted.
“The actual franchise record before this was 18 games that was set by the 2005 team that won the Memorial Cup and set all sorts of records, and on Friday night [Dec. 14] the Knights had a chance to break that.
“They were up 2-1 in the final minute when Daniel Catenacci scored to tie the game, and it was then that the team would admit that they were thinking, ‘After all of the hard work, we’ve come thus far and all of sudden it will just fly away?’
“That was when the Knights’ came back down and Seth Griffith deflected a shot from Tommy Hughes with four seconds left to get the win, and set the stage for a wild weekend,” Stubbs added.
That wild weekend also saw the Knights edge the Guelph Storm in a shootout and then rally to defeat the Kingston Frontenacs, which helped them improved their overall record 29-5-0-2 and also allowed them to increase their lead over Owen Sound in the Midwest Division by 11 points.
With the Christmas break ending for the Knights on Thursday when they host the Windsor Spitfires, all of the talk will be around whether or not the team will be able to break the longest win streak in OHL history—a 24-game run by the Kitchener Rangers back in 1984.
But Stubbs feels the team will be far more focused on the task at hand instead of the hype that will be surrounding their winning ways.
“It’s a thing where the team hasn’t been thinking streak first, as they have their game plan and their goal it to go out and execute that game plan,” he reasoned.
“It’s not something where now they are going to say, ‘Oh wow, we have to win our 22nd-straight game tonight.’
“They are going to say, ‘We have to go out and beat the Windsor Spitfires,’” Stubbs said.