WarHawks escape Wisconsin with series sweep


It may not have been pretty, but the Willmar WarHawks earned their first sweep of the season with a 2-1 victory against the Wisconsin Whalers Saturday night in Oregon, Wisconsin.

With 51 seconds remaining in regulation time, Braden Shea picked up a long pass from Riley Dixon on the penalty kill and sped away before sending the puck over the shoulder of Wisconsin goaltender Brendan Earls for his fourth goal of the season.

"That's Shea and Dixon, two veterans and two leaders on this team making a play when we need them to," said Willmar head coach Chris Blaisuis. "Shea did what a captain was supposed to do; he helped keep us in it and got us a goal."

More than the goal scoring effort, it was goaltender Luke Fry who kept the WarHawks in the game despite, as Blaisuis called it, not the team's greatest defensive effort. The Columbus, Indiana native stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced and only allowed one goal for the fifth-consecutive game. In eight games played so far this season, Fry has a goals allowed average of 1.56 and a .947 save percentage for a 6-2-0 record. He finished the weekend with 77 saves.

"We don't win this game without Luke Fry," Blaisuis said.

Willmar got the scoring started just 2:47 into the first period with a goal from Max Oelkers, his third of the season, following assists from Shea and defenseman Wyatt Toll who also assisted on Shea's game-winning goal.

Oelkers appeared to have a second goal as the seconds wound down in the first period to take a 2-0 lead but, after a long conversation between the referees, was disallowed for crossing the goalline after time expired.

Wisconsin's Nick Rogers scored his ninth goal of the season with 2:05 remaining in the game during a 4-on-4 stretch as both teams were serving time for slashing (Wisconsin's Carter Grobstick) and too many men on the ice (Willmar's Evan Burke).

The WarHawks prepared for overtime but Shea's goal 1:14 later gave the win to the visiting team.

The win moves the WarHawks to 7-4-1 on the season, just one point behind Granite City in the West Division. A 2-1 win isn't exactly what the WarHawks were looking for against the winless Whalers but Blaisuis said he's happy with where his team his at.

"We haven't had a sweep all year so to get that this weekend is big," Blaisuis said. "It's our second three-game winning streak. The guys know they have to be better but we can't discount how big having a road sweep is against anybody."

Willmar 2, Wisconsin 1

Willmar 1 0 1 — 2

Wisconsin 0 0 1 — 1

FIRST PERIOD — Willmar: Max Oelkers (Braden Shea, Wyatt Toll) 2:47

SECOND PERIOD — No goals scored

THIRD PERIOD — Wisconsin: Nick Rogers (Dan Lienemann, Luke Hefty) 17:55 ... Willmar: Shea (Riley Dixon, Toll) sh 19:09

GOALIE SAVES — Willmar: Luke Fry 37 ... Wisconsin: Brendan Earls 42