Minnesota Wilderness head back to Robertson Cup and a first-year head coach leads the way
The Wilderness are the only team in Blaine that has previously won a Robertson Cup. After a successful regular season and a 6-0-1 start to the playoffs, Minnesota will now try to add a second title
The Robertson Cup Championship gets underway Friday at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn. The event runs Friday through Tuesday and culminates with the Championship Game Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Minnesota and Oklahoma will play a best-of-three series this weekend while Austin and Maryland will do the same, with the two winners advancing to Tuesday's winner-take-all championship.
The Rink Live will preview all four teams competing in the event, continuing with Minnesota.
Location: Cloquet, Minn.
Head coach: Brett Skinner, 1st season
Division / Finish: Midwest Division / 2nd
Home arena: Northwoods Credit Union Arena
Previous Robertson Cup Championship appearances: One
Last title: 2015
How they got here
The Wilderness are heading to the Robertson Cup Championship for the second time in franchise history and for the first time under first-year coach Brett Skinner.
After dropping their first three games of the season and struggling through September, the Wilderness have been one of the league’s most consistent teams, especially since the calendar flipped to 2023.
“It’s really been a building process for our team all year,” Skinner told The Rink Live. “We got out of the gate a little bit slow and we’re getting the results but there was a sense that we were playing well and it was going to come eventually. And fortunately they did.
“We play in a tough division and there are no easy nights. So when I look at our team, I’m just proud of the way this group has responded and handled everything. Especially in the second half, we battled injuries and lost one of our top defensemen to the USHL, but guys just continued to dig in and step up. And then when we got back healthy, I thought we played really well down the stretch and it’s followed us here into the playoffs.”
WE AIN’T DONE YET 💪 pic.twitter.com/F2wiFrDB3C— Minnesota Wilderness (@mnwilderness) May 14, 2023
Skinner’s club won seven of its final 10 to close out the regular season and swept its first-round matchup with Kenai River to set up a second-round showdown against Wisconsin.
Minnesota and Wisconsin battled atop the Midwest Division throughout the second half until Wisconsin pulled away over the final two weeks. Minnesota finished second in the standings, just four points behind.
However, the Wilderness won where it mattered most — taking three of the four games against the Windigo and punching their ticket to Blaine. Now they’ll try to knock off another division winner in Oklahoma.
“We know they’re the top team in the league and they’re in that spot for a reason,” Skinner said. “They’re well-coached, they’ve got a lot of skill and you see all the individual awards coming out of their team. We know it’ll be a challenge but we’re excited to be playing on this stage.”
Players to Watch
Kevin Marx Noren, F
The Swedish winger was a Second Team All-NAHL selection after leading the league with 34 goals and racking up 60 points in 58 regular-season games, which ranked ninth in the NAHL.
Marx Noren — who the Wilderness acquired from Fairbanks in an early-season trade — has been a huge threat in the playoffs too. The right-shot forward has lit the lamp five times and added three assists over seven playoff games.
“Kevin’s just a natural goal scorer and he’s a playoff player,” Skinner said. “He’s got such a good release and I would say his ability to score in so many different ways is why he finds himself at the top of the league. He can score with his 1-on-1 ability, he gets to the front of the net and he can score goals off the rush.
“He’s a really talented kid and he’s really dedicated off the ice, and he’s just been so consistent for us all year.”
Isak Posch, G
At a time of year where good goaltending can be the difference, Posch has given the Wilderness exactly that. After setting a franchise record with 25 wins during the regular season, the SCSU commit is 6-0-1 in the postseason with a 1.42 GAA and .952 save percentage.
Friday’s #RobertsonCup Stars of the Night!— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 6, 2023
2 Goals, OT Winner
26 Save Shutout pic.twitter.com/Rz6kZQ0lv6
Posch made 33 saves last time out in Minnesota’s series-clinching win over Wisconsin. He’s stopped 198 of the 208 shots fired his way this postseason.
“He’s a guy that I knew a little bit coming out of Sioux Falls and he’s been good throughout the entire season,” Skinner said. “The biggest thing with Isak is his off-ice work and his character. He’s got a pro approach and he’s just a kid that’s willing to do whatever it takes and that you can believe in.
“I think he was really motivated coming into this season and wanted to prove that he was a good goalie and I think he’s done exactly that.”
Robertson Cup schedule
Fri. May 17, vs. Oklahoma 4:30 p.m.
Sat. May 18, vs. Oklahoma 4:30 p.m.
Sun. May 19, vs. Oklahoma 3 p.m. *if necessary*