Junior hockey: Minnesota Wilderness part ways with championship staff, fire coach Corey Millen
After three playoff appearances in three seasons, including last year's North American Hockey League Robertson Cup title, the Minnesota Wilderness have parted ways with head coach Corey Millen and assistant coach Josh Petrich, the franchise annou...
After three playoff appearances in three seasons, including last year’s North American Hockey League Robertson Cup title, the Minnesota Wilderness have parted ways with head coach Corey Millen and assistant coach Josh Petrich, the franchise announced Wednesday.
Petrich, a native of Elk River, Minn., recently resigned in search of other opportunities. Millen, a Cloquet native and former NHL standout, was fired. They both have coached the Wilderness since the franchise joined the Tier II junior NAHL in the 2013-14 season.
“They said they wanted to move in a different direction,” Millen said. “There was some conversation about maybe there was some things that were thought to be done differently. For the most part they wanted to go in a different direction.
“I didn’t really know this was coming. I had planned on coming back here next year. It’s pretty fresh.”
Under Millen and Petrich, the Cloquet-based Wilderness have gone 127-56-23 with top-three finishes each year in the NAHL’s Midwest Division. They coached 20 NCAA Division I recruits with the majority of those players earning scholarship offers while members of the Wilderness.
One of those scholarships went to goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who started two seasons at Minnesota Duluth before signing with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs this spring.
“In three years we built an unbelievable organization in the North American Hockey League,” Petrich said. “But at the same time, I looked at it as an opportunity to move on to the next step with my wife. She and I sat down and made that decision.”
The Wilderness rattled off 10 straight playoff wins a year ago - seven on the road - to become the first team from the state of Minnesota to ever win an NAHL championship. They finished second in their division at 39-15-6 during the regular season and then fell behind 2-0 in a best-of-five first-round series prior to making their title run.
The Wilderness finished third in the Midwest Division this season at 34-18-8 and were ousted by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in five games in a second-round series that concluded Sunday in Cloquet. In their first NAHL season, the Wilderness finished second in the Midwest at 37-14-9 and lost their first-round series in five games.
“I’m very prideful of what we did in the three years,” Millen said. “We took 15 tenders two weeks before the draft and turned it into the fourth-best team in the league the first year. Winning (the Robertson Cup) last year was a huge thing for us. Again, I thought, considering the injuries we had, I was very happy with the way the boys competed and the results we had (this season). I couldn’t be more proud of what we accomplished in the three years, that’s for sure.
“It’s great to be back in the Northland. The support of the people of Cloquet and just around the area has been awesome. I’m thankful for that for sure.”
General manager Dave Boitz will serve as interim head coach until a new coaching staff is announced, the Wilderness said in their announcement. Calls to Wilderness president and owner Chris Trapp were not returned in time for publication.
“We would like to thank Coach Millen and Coach Petrich for their service the last three seasons," Trapp said in a news release. “We wish them both the best and again thank them for their contributions to our organization.”
The Wilderness are the sixth NAHL team to make a coaching change since the 2015-16 season began. Only four current coaches in the league have been their team’s head coach for four or more seasons. Four other coaches in the league recently completed their third season. Two, including Millen, are gone.
The NAHL is wrapping up its 40th season. The Wilderness are one of six teams to come into existence in its current form since 2013 and one of 22 since 2010.