WENATCHEE — With time winding down and the Minot Minotauros badly in need of some goals to get back in the contest, the Wenatchee Wild did just enough to maintain its lead.
Wenatchee applied steady offensive pressure with its rushes and narrowly held on for a 3-2 win Saturday at Town Toyota Center, despite surrendering a score late in the third period. The Wild finished their home-opening weekend with a pair of victories to improve to 5-3 overall.
“Lots to improve on, but lots to build on,” coach Bliss Littler said. “I think there’s more positive than negative and our kids are learning that winning hockey games is hard work.”
Make no mistake, Wenatchee had to roll up its sleeves to keep the Minotauros at bay in the closing minutes.
Minot outshot the Wild 16-12 in the final period of play and continued to press for an equalizer as time dwindled. It cut into Wenatchee’s 3-1 lead with a power play score with 7:13 left and would have tied the contest if not for a critical save by netminder Mackenzie Sawyer with less than a minute on the clock. Sawyer — who recorded 30 saves on 32 shots in the win — dropped into a butterfly and deflected the puck with his left shin guard to keep his team ahead.
Sawyer’s save in crunch time was impressive, but the closing effort as a whole left something to be desired.
“I didn’t like that we gave up a goal off the rush on the penalty kill. We want to make them dump the puck,” Littler said. “We got passive. And generally, when you’re passive, it’s like in football — prevent defense tries to prevent you from winning. But we battled hard after that.”
The scoring plays that put Wenatchee in the driver’s seat to secure the victory were a combination of speed, hustle and a bit of luck.
The Wild lit the lamp late in the second period while shorthanded. Chris Koukis took advantage of a turnover and ripped a wrister at the net, which bounced off Minot goalie Merrick Madsen and in to give the home team a 2-1 advantage.
“Obviously, the (shorthanded goal), they’d like to have that back,” Littler said. “But good things happen when you throw pucks at the net.”
Wenatchee capitalized on another turnover early in the third period, which set up Trey Bradley for an unguarded breakaway opportunity, which he capitalized on to put the team up by two.
Aside from the late scare and the fortunate bounces, Littler saw some improvement in his young roster. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of work left to do as the season unfolds though.
“Our thing here is to be great with rush transition, that’s line rushes,” Littler said. “To be outstanding in our defensive zone and have outstanding special teams. Those are the three things that we’re going to try to hang our hat on here. And after we take care of those three things, then it’s all the little things that win you hockey games.”
Littler was adamant about stressing the process it takes in getting to that point. He said he isn’t overly concerned with league standings at this point of the season and is more focused on developing the young talent on his squad.
It won’t come over night, and with the Wild returning to the road for the next two weekends against quality opponents, they will undoubtedly face their fair share of tests going forward.
But Wenatchee did enough to win Saturday, and that’s a positive going forward.
Wenatchee 3, Minot 0 (Friday)
The Wenatchee Wild scored twice in the first period and went on to win their home-opener 3-0 Friday against the Minot Minotauros at Town Toyota Center.
Trey Bradley slotted Wenatchee’s first goal with a shot above the right circle during a power play at the 7:47 mark off an assist from Matthew Nuttle and Troy Loggins.
The Wild lit the lamp again less than four minutes later with a one-time from David Powlowski off an assist from Nicholas Rivera during another 5-on-4 advantage off.
Loggins put in the team’s third power play score of the night early in the third period with a backhand from the left wing.
“We had our chance on the power play to score some goals” coach Bliss Littler said in a press release. “It was nice to get some. And on the penalty kill, we did a nice job. That starts with your goaltender. .. For a young group, we learned some lessons tonight and tomorrow Minot will come back. Tomorrow will be a great challenge for us.”
Chase Perry recorded 24 saves in the shutout effort. The Wild finished the night 3-for-8 on power play opportunities.