CLOQUET, MN – For the sixth time in eight seasons, the Austin Bruins will appear in the Central Division Finals. After defeating the Minnesota Wilderness 5-3 on Saturday night at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet, they took the Semifinal series, three games to one and will play either the Aberdeen Wings or Minot Minotauros next weekend for the right to represent the Central Division at the Robertson Cup Tournament.
After falling behind 1-0 early, the Bruins struck twice in the final four minutes of the opening period to seize momentum. At 16:06, Travis Kothenbeutel and Dante Sheriff set up Evan Cholak with a wide open net to tie the game. With only 24 seconds remaining in the period, Dante Zapata’s shot from the right-wing circle was kicked by Wilderness goaltender Ryan Fanti to Dante Sheriff, who batted it out of mid-air to put the Bruins ahead entering the first intermission.
After a tight first sixteen minutes of the second, Kothenbeutel opened the lead to 3-1 during four-on-four hockey. Alex Truscott over-skated the puck trying to exit his defensive zone and Kothenbeutel jumped on it and beat Fanti to the glove side. The Wilderness got a key goal just over a minute later from CJ Regula to close the gap back to one after 40 minutes.
Just 31 seconds into the 3rd, the Bruins captured the momentum back when Dante Zapata came out of the right-wing corner and fooled Fanti with a backhand shot, making it 4-2. At 5:45, Jed Pietila sprang Valdemar Ahlberg on a breakaway and Ahlberg scored his third goal of the series to make it a three-goal lead. With the goalie pulled, Wilderness defenseman Alex Spencer scored with 2:01 left but that would be as close as they would get and the Bruins celebrated a series win.
Alex Schilling made 20 saves on 23 shots while Fanti stopped 19 of 24. With Aberdeen and Minot going to a decisive fifth game on Monday night, the Bruins will sit and await their next opponent and venue for game one of the Central Division Finals next Friday. Aberdeen would hold home ice advantage over the Bruins while Austin would host Minot.