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Wiese finds redemption, lifts Rochester Grizzlies into national semifinals

Zach Wiese made 26 saves, just 48 hours after a disappointing performance in the North American 3 Hockey League's Fraser Cup national tournament opener. His strong effort helped the Rochester Grizzlies beat the Gillette Wild 4-2 and earn a spot in the national semifinals.

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Zach Wiese
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When Zach Wiese got to the Rochester Grizzlies’ bench midway through Wednesday’s opening game at the Fraser Cup, his coach met him with a message.

“I told him I was sorry when I pulled him,” Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said. “It wasn’t because of him. We weren’t playing in front of him. I thought maybe we could preserve his confidence and we might find a little fire if we made the switch.

“It wasn’t because of Zach.”

Two days ago, the Grizzlies got off to a slow start in the opening game of the North American 3 Hockey League’s national championship tournament, the Fraser Cup, and lost by three goals to the top-seeded Northeast Generals (Attleboro, Mass.).

The Grizzlies had 48 hours to stew on that defeat, and Wiese had two days to refocus and play the type of game he knows he can play. Two days after surrendering four goals in just more than 31 minutes in the loss to Northeast, Wiese not only played the entire game Friday, he was his team’s best player.

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Wiese made 26 saves and was key in holding the Gillette (Wyo.) Wild to an 1-for-8 effort on the power play — including two lengthy stretches of 5-on-3 play, and a 6-on-3 stretch with the Wild’s goalie pulled over the final 1:05 of the game — as the Grizzlies beat the Wild 4-2 in the final game of Pool A play at the North American 3 Hockey League’s national championship tournament.

“Zach was great today,” Ratzloff said. “He wasn’t bad against Northeastern, either. We just put him in bad situations.

“Today we limited the breakaways and the (odd-man chances). They got two on him, but the first one, that’s just us not getting a puck deep and (Gillette turning it the other way). And the second one was a 6-on-3. What are you going to do about that?”

The victory keeps the Grizzlies’ season alive and lifts them into Saturday’s national semifinals, where they will face the winner of Pool B — Granite City, El Paso (Texas) or Helena (Mont.) — at 7 p.m. at the St. Peter Rec-Plex, just outside of St. Louis. Rochester’s semifinal opponent will be determined after Friday’s Pool B finale between El Paso and Helena.

“After (Wednesday’s) game, in the moment, he was very disappointed,” Ratzloff said of Wiese. “He felt like he let us down, but we let him know right away that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t because of how he played. We weren’t good in front of him and (we pulled him) so he didn’t have to keep getting punished.

“With the day off (Thursday) he got refocused in practice. He practiced hard, like he was trying to earn a spot. I asked (goalie coach) Tait (Carlson) and right away we both said ‘we’re going with Zach again Friday.’”

Ben Oakland was credited with two goals, while Justin Wright and Logan Kroyman scored once each for Rochester. Austin Meers and Max Breon had one assist each. Meers played an outstanding game, making a nice lead pass to set up Wright’s goal and he filled in nicely for a banged-up Kyle Bauer on Rochester’s top line.

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Austin Meers, Rochester Grizzlies

“He was really good today,” Ratzloff said of Meers, who grew up less than 10 miles from the St. Peters Rec-Plex, where the Fraser Cup is being played. “He was great up on that line when Bauer got dinged up. He can adapt; we can use him wherever we need to.”

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Wiese, meanwhile, had his teammates’ backs as they made a parade to the penalty box. Rochester took eight penalties in the game, including five in the first 26 minutes, giving the Wild five consecutive power plays.

Gillette was thwarted on some quality scoring chances, including one on a quick 2-on-1 chance on a power play 1:38 into the second period, but Wiese slid right-to-left and stretched his left leg to the post to rob Gillette’s Declan Young with a kick save.

Then, 6 minutes into the second and with the Wild on a power play again, Wiese squared up to the shooter and flashed his glove to make a big save on a hard shot from the left circle by Isaac Young.

Ratzloff said the Grizzlies will have to limit penalties Saturday if they hope to have success.

“When we get goals or offensive chances, we start to cheat a bit offensively,” he said. “Guys get loose with the sticks and they stop hitting bodies. They’re reaching with the sticks, and that’s what it was today.

“We put the ref in a bad spot … we can’t leave it in their hands.”

Rochester is now in the national semifinals for a second consecutive season. If they win Saturday, they’ll play for the Fraser Cup championship at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“The important thing is getting (to the semifinals) and we took that step today,” Ratzloff said. “Hopefully we can be better. We were a little bit better today. For us to be effective in this environment, we need to play at 5-on-5 and roll four lines.”

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The Scoring

FIRST PERIOD

Rochester 1, Gillette 0 (8:15): Austin Meers hit Justin Wright as the Grizzlies entered the offensive zone. Wright bears down on Wild goalie Jake Turek all alone and snaps a shot past Turek’s glove hand.

Rochester 2, Gillette 0 (17:43): While on a penalty kill, Ben Oakland’s shot misses the net wide and Turek gets turned around while attempting to play the carom off the end boards. The puck bounces right to Oakland, who followed his shot and tapped it into an open net.

SECOND PERIOD

No scoring.

THIRD PERIOD

Rochester 3, Gillette 0 (1:07): The Grizzlies get a power play 53 seconds into the final period and need just 14 seconds to capitalize. Defenseman Logan Kroyman blasts a shot off the crossbar and in.

Rochester 3, Gillette 1 (5:04): Zack Slinger shoots from the low left circle on a rush and the rebound goes directly to Tristan Baker who shoots into an open side of the goal to get the Wild on the board.

Rochester 4, Gillette 1 (5:27): An own-goal for the Grizzlies. Turek leaves his net to gather the puck and attempts to shoot it out of his zone, but instead shoots it off defenseman Jacob Guitard and into the Wild net. Ben Oakland gets the credit, his second of the game and third of the Fraser Cup. Turek is pulled for Jack Orchard after this goal.

Rochester 4, Gillette 2 (19:49): With two Grizzlies in the box and the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Caleb Sanborn scores Gillette’s lone power-play goal on eight tries.

Notes…

Top defenseman and alternate captain Per Waage returned to the Grizzlies lineup Friday after missing Wednesday’s Fraser Cup opener. … Waage’s return meant Logan Schwartzhoff shuffled to the seventh defenseman spot and Jameson Folden didn’t dress. … The only other lineup change for Rochester was at fourth-line center, where Kyle Brown drew in, in place of Max Clark. … Gillette’s lineup included a pair of former Faribault High School forwards, Leighton Weasler and Zack Slinger.

Box Score

GRIZZLIES 4, WILD 2

Gillette 0-0-2 — 2

Rochester 2-0-2 — 4

First period — 1. ROC, Justin Wright 1 (Austin Meers 1, Max Breon 1) 8:15. 2. ROC, Ben Oakland 2 (unassisted) 17:43 (sh). Second period — no scoring. Third period — 3. ROC, Logan Kroyman 2 (unassisted) 1:07 (pp). 4. GLT, Tristan Baker 1 (Zack Slinger 1) 5:04. 5. ROC, Oakland 3 (unassisted) 5:27. 6. GLT, Caleb Sanborn 1 (Sky Solig 1) 19:49 (pp, ex, 6x3).

Shots on goal — GLT 6-12-10 — 28; ROC 13-9-11 — 33. Goalies — GLT, Jake Turek (45:38; L, 0-1-0; 20 saves-24 shots); Jack Orchard (14:22; ND, 0-1-0; 6 saves-6 shots). ROC, Zach Wiese (W, 1-1-0; 26 saves-28 shots). Power-play opportunities — GLT, 0-for-8; ROC, 1-for-3. Penalties — GLT, 3-6 minutes; ROC, 8-16 minutes.

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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