Playoff still WarHawks' goal
WILLMAR--The Willmar WarHawks are in last place in the North American Tier III Hockey League's (NA3HL) West Division but that doesn't stop head coach Chris Blaisuis from keeping his eyes on the postseason.
WILLMAR-The Willmar WarHawks are in last place in the North American Tier III Hockey League's (NA3HL) West Division but that doesn't stop head coach Chris Blaisuis from keeping his eyes on the postseason.
For Blaisuis it's more than just confidence, though. He guarantees it.
"I personally guarantee a spot in the playoffs," Blaisuis said. "We have higher aspirations than most other teams think."
His team is 16-15-1 with 34 points in the West Division and they sit just five points back of a playoff spot held by the New Ulm Steel. Despite the small margin, though, the first-year WarHawks have been looked at by teams around the league as sellers as the season nears the Feb. 10 trade deadline.
"I had other teams ask about our guys because they thought we wouldn't make the playoffs but I told each of them that we were making the playoffs," Blaisuis said. "They think because we're in our first year and everything that we will roll over but we've got the talent, we've got the guys."
Blaisuis echoed that sentiment at Monday's practice.
"I think we as a group have higher expectations and desires than most people think we're capable of," Blaisuis posted in the locker room. "This group won't stop working until we achieve our goal of making the playoffs."
Despite sitting in last place right now, the WarHawks have a variety of aspects working in their favor as the season winds down. In addition to being five points off from fourth-place New Ulm, they are also 10 points behind third-place Breezy Point with three games in hand over the North Stars. The WarHawks also have two more games with the North Stars on the schedule and three left with the Steel.
Part of Blaisuis' confidence also comes from his goaltender Alex Weissenborn who made 51 saves in Saturday's 4-2 win over Breezy Point. That's the fourth time this season he's made 50 or more saves and has been one of the binding elements for a team that has battled with injuries throughout the season. He missed nearly two months earlier this season with concussion-like symptoms but has been dominant while between the pipes. He's 8-5-0 in the season while posting a 0.941 save percentage, good for fifth-best in the NA3HL. He also features a 2.55 goals allowed average.
"If I'm a different team, Weissy would be the last guy I'd like to face," Blaisuis said.
With their 16-15-1 record, the WarHawks have the best record for a fifth-place team in the NA3HL. By comparison, the Rochester Ice Hawks--Willmar's opponent on Friday--is currently in playoff position in the Central Division with a 7-29 record. The WarHawks would actually be tied for second place with La Crosse (16-18-2) in the Central Division.
"It's frustrating, absolutely," Blaisuis said. "It's out of our control so there's no sense in thinking about it but we would be a playoff team in just about every other division. It's just a credit to how good the West is."
The Warhawks have dealt with that reality all season and they'll continue to get a heavy dose of West Division play down the stretch as 11 of their final 14 games are against Divisional opponents. They also play Rochester and have a pair against perennial powerhouse North Iowa.
"We have a tough schedule but it's all in front of us," Blaisuis said. "We've shown we can play with anybody."
The WarHawks finished their weekend on a high note Saturday by getting two points back against Breezy Point with a 4-2 win at the Willmar Civic Center.
It was the third game in as many nights for the WarHawks but their energy was strong early on, netting the first goal of the game from defenseman Wyatt Toll who scored on a power play with 4:16 left to play in the first period. The North Stars bounced back with a power play goal of their own, though, with 20 seconds left in the period.
Willmar responded quickly in the second period with a Jacob Dobberstein goal 19 seconds after the period began and Kyle Wendorf took the lead for good with a tough shot midway through the third period.
That was the only thing going offensively for the WarHawks in the third period, though, as Breezy Point dominated the shots 27-10. Weissenborn was up for the challenge, stopping 26 of those 27 shots, only allowing a powerplay goal to Josh Laven.
"Weissenborn kept us in that game for sure," Blaisuis said. "We just ran out of gas there in the third period and he was big for us."
Wendorf tacked on an empty net goal, his 17th goal of the season, before time expired.
Willmar 4, Breezy Point 2
Breezy Point 1 0 1 - 2
Willmar 1 1 2 - 4
FIRST PERIOD - Willmar: Wyatt Toll (Dylan Gast, Kane Toriumi) 15:44 pp ... Breezy Point: Tyler Larwood (Austin Langworthy, Zachary Taylor) 19:40 pp
SECOND PERIOD - Willmar: Jacob Dobberstein (Toriumi, Gast) 0:19
THIRD PERIOD - Breezy Point: Josh Laven (Alex Flicek, Nick Blanchette) 12:16 pp ... Willmar: Kyle Wendorf (Toll, Alec Skar) 13:11 ...Willmar: Wendorf (Toll, Brade Shea) 19:22 en
GOALIE SAVES - Breezy Point: Magnus Lindhe 35 ... Willmar: Alex Weissenborn 51