NA Now: Minnesota Wilderness | North American Hockey League | NAHL
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NA Now: Minnesota Wilderness

August 24, 2023

The NA Now series features a look at all 32 teams in the NAHL for the 2023-24 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.

Minnesota Wilderness

Head Coach: Colten St. Clair (1st season)

2022-23 record: 60 GP, 35-18-7, 77 pts. (2nd in the Midwest Division)

2022-23 leading scorer: Kevin Marx Noren (60 points)

2023 Playoffs: Won the Midwest, Lost in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals to Oklahoma, 2 games to 0

2023-24 Division: Midwest

First regular season game: Saturday, September 9th vs. Anchorage Wolverines

Home opener: Saturday, September 9th vs. Anchorage Wolverines

The Minnesota Wilderness caught fire at the end of the regular season in 2022-23. The club won seven of its last 10 games, including the last three in a row to secure sole possession of 2nd place in the Midwest Division. After a three-game sweep of the Kenai River Brown Bears in the Division Semi-Finals, the Wilderness matched up the Wisconsin Windigo in the Midwest Division Finals. The teams split the first two games of the series in Eagle River before the Wilderness defended home ice twice, winning the series and advancing to the Robertson Cup for the first time since 2015.

In the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals, Minnesota matched up with the top seeded Oklahoma Warriors and had a two-goal lead late in Game 1. The Warriors rallied to take the first game of the series by a score of 3-2 and eliminated the Wilderness the following day with a 3-1 victory in Game 2. Minnesota had 10 players earn NCAA commitments during the 2022-23 season, with nine of them being Division I commitments.

This season they will be led by a new voice. Colten St. Clair takes over for Brett Skinner behind the bench and becomes a head coach in the NAHL for the first time. “I’m very excited. It’s something I’ve really been looking forward to, I’ve been looking to be a head coach for the last couple years. I’m really excited to learn and be a part of such a great group,” said St. Clair.

The new coach wants to continue the success the Wilderness have had and bring his own style to his team. “We want to be relentless. I think the biggest thing for us is that were going to be work based. You can’t do all the things the right way if you’re not work based. I think that’s going to be our biggest thing,” St. Clair explained.

Watch: NA Now video interview with Colten St. Clair

The Wilderness will have a nice core of players returning from last year’s Midwest Division Champions. Adam Johnson brings back his 22 points from a season ago. Oliver Stumpel and Eddie Shepler both lit the lamp 10 times and finished with 19 points and will come back for another year in Cloquet.

The Wilderness are also bringing back Joe Cesario. He was with the Wilderness for 41 games last year before being moved to Anchorage at the deadline. His 14 goals were 2nd most on the team behind leading goal scorer Kevin Marx Noren.

Evan Panos leads the blue line returners for Minnesota while Niklas Erickson will be back in the blue paint, coming off an injury last year. The Minnesota native went 3-1 with a 2.50 goals against average and a .907 save percentage in five appearances.

“I think there’s a good blend. Each one of those players are a little bit different so it’s exciting to have a little bit of everything. We’re going to be relying on those guys for leadership too,” said St. Clair.

As the defending division playoff champs, St. Clair and his staff know they’ll get the best from their opponents every single time they step out onto the ice.

“The target on your back is always a good thing. Truthfully, you have to worry about yourself. You have to take it day by day. As an athlete, coach or competitor you’re always looking for the end result because you want that so bad but at the same time sometimes you forget the journey along the way. For us, that’s going to be the biggest thing, just day by day. That’s it. You win the day and that’s what we’re going to go by,” St. Clair stated.

With a good core and new bench boss, the Wilderness will aim to repeat the success of last year and try to extend their time in Blaine a few more days to bring home the ultimate prize.

Next Up: Minot Minotauros

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