Wilderness running wild yet again

It’s beginning to becoming as inevitable as a story on a riot taking place in a Walmart electronics department on “Black Friday.”
But yet again, the Minnesota Wilderness—who called Wisconsin home for the previous two seasons—are turning the SIJHL into their own playground and leaving the rest of the league in the dust.
Prior to moving to Cloquet this summer, the Spooner, Wis.-based Wilderness quickly became the new kingpin of the league, dispatching the previous top team (the Thunder Bay North Stars) in one fell swoop.
In their inaugural campaign two seasons ago, the Wilderness cruised to first place with a 45-6-5 mark, then swept aside the North Stars and Dryden Ice Dogs to capture the Bill Salonen Cup for the first time.
The following year saw an even better performance during the regular season as the Wilderness posted a 49-6-1 record and were highly-ranked in the CJHL’s top 20 for most of the campaign.
This time around, though, the road to the championship was a much tougher one for the club, who fell to the Fort Frances Lakers in the “super series” to start off the post-season and then trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven final.
However, the Wilderness came through with their backs against the wall, rattling off three-straight victories to earn their second SIJHL title in as many years.
After celebrating back-to-back league titles for a couple of months, word came out this summer that the team’s arena in Spooner was being closed down, which forced a move to Cloquet, Mn.
Despite a change in location, the Wilderness haven’t slowed down one bit. They currently lead the SIJHL yet again with a 19-3-0 record and hold a 10-point lead over the second-place Ice Dogs heading into a home game against the Lakers this Friday.
In fact, the Wilderness haven’t lost in more than a month since dropping a 4-3 decision to the Lakers back on Oct. 24, and now are ranked fourth nationally thanks to their lengthy win streak.
So what has made the Wilderness a juggernaut in the SIJHL, especially when other teams like the Ice Dogs, Lakers, and North Stars continue to field strong squads?
For me, at least, it’s the fact that head coach and general manager Ron Aldoff has been able to find the players who can fit into their high-octane offence, without having to rebuild over a period of time.
While the Wilderness are benefiting this year by having league-leading scorer Mike Dietrich and highly-skilled forward Jordan Shockley back from last year’s title-winning roster, players like Joseph Drapluk, Michael MacKinnon, and Jake Larson already are making an impact in the scoring department.
But it’s not just the offence as the Wilderness’ goaltending tandem of JoJo Jeanetta and Gordy Defiel are becoming nearly impossible to beat. Their combined goals against average of 1.54 just edges out former netminder Tanner Milliron’s 1.57 GAA performance from a season ago.
Although it seems the Wilderness look to be well on their way to reach the Dudley Hewitt Cup for a third-straight season, one shouldn’t start engraving the Bill Salonen Cup ahead of time.
It’s been proven time and time again that anything can—and will—happen in the playoffs. After all, last year’s Lakers’ squad showed that the Wilderness’ quick-fire attack can be shut down.
However, it’s going to take a very outstanding showing from one of the five other teams in the SIJHL to do that against this Wilderness team on multiple occasions—unless something changes drastically over the next few months.

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