ABERDEEN, SD (AberdeenWings.com) –
North Iowa Bulls
Aberdeen Wings 4-3 [OT]
After getting on the board early in the first period, the Aberdeen Wings found themselves down a goal late in the third. But just when things looked grim, Cade Neilson pushed his team to overtime, then scored again to lead the Wings to big a 4-3 win over the North Iowa Bulls Friday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen.
It took Wings captain Kyle Gaffney just 43 seconds to find the back of the net in the opening stanza. The Bulls sent the puck around their own net and bounced it out in front of the crease, and Seamus Campbell was there to send it to Gaffney, who fired into the back door to put his team on the board. Gaffney notched his sixth goal on the year, while Campbell grabbed his ninth assist.
The Bulls responded less than two minutes later when Jack Campion got the equalizer, but the Wings responded two minutes later themselves when Campbell found himself on a breakaway and slid the puck five-hole between Bulls netminder Kyle Kozma at the 4:32 mark. It was his second point in the period and 14th goal on the season, while Parks Wallace picked up his fourth assist.
All three first period goals were scored in the first five minutes, and the Wings came out swinging, outshooting North Iowa 13-4.
It was the Bulls who got the quick goal to open the second period when Hunter Bulger scored just 47 seconds in. The Wings seemed to slow down offensively, allowing North Iowa more shots and losing the pace of the game. At the 18:48 mark, the Bulls got the go-ahead goal they were looking for from Byron Hartley and, after outshooting the Wings 16-12, skated into final break with the 3-2 lead.
“We want to score first and we want to score last, and we did that,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “Our first period was good, I liked it. After the media timeout in the second we had a good six minutes, but before that we let a lot of momentum get away from us, and that has to stop.”
The Bulls killed off two penalties in the final period and Kozma stood tall in net, denying several opportunistic Wings chances. With time ticking down, Neilson applied heavy pressure in front of the North Iowa net, forcing a turnover and tucking the puck between Kozma’s legs to tie the game at three apiece at the 17:33 mark. The unassisted goal was his 19th on the season. And when the final buzzer sounded, the teams headed into extra hockey.
The Bulls controlled the overtime face-off and skated into the Wings zone, but Aberdeen forced a turnover and Neilson skated in on a breakaway but fired his shot over the net. The Wings maintained control of the puck and sent it to Neilson once again, who danced between the circles and fired the puck into the back of the net just 43 seconds into the bonus hockey period. His second goal of the game was his 20th overall, while defenseman Will Gilson added his twelfth assist on the season.
Despite the second period slump, Jennings was pleased with his team’s tenacity and ability to dig themselves out of a hole and find a way to come out with the win.
“Seamus had a great start to the game, adding two points in the opening period,” he said. “Gaffney getting us on the board was big. But the big story was Neilson, bouncing back from taking a couple of big hits. He carried the game on his back and solved it for us. That’s what leaders do.”
Thanks to a strong third period, Aberdeen outshot North Iowa 41-29 overall, killing three penalties in the process and maintaining their status as the league’s top penalty-killing unit. They went 0-4 on the power play despite several great chances, but Jennings said the coaching staff was pleased with the overall effort and knew that a physical matchup would come their way.
“It was tense. The physicality is important and with a team like this, you need to be able to slow them down,” he said. “Getting in their way and disrupting their flow and getting heavy with them; I thought we did a really good job with that.”
Orosz denied 26 of the 29 shots sent his way for his sixth win of the season. Both Campbell and Neilson recorded two-point games, and the Wings remain in third place in the division. But they’ll face the Bulls once again tomorrow, looking to grab the weekend sweep and two more coveted league points.
“We can’t have any lapses,” Jennings said ahead of Saturday’s rematch. “They’re going to get a little deeper overnight and we have to be ready to go tomorrow. We can’t have a lapse like we did to start the second period.”
North Iowa Bulls
Aberdeen Wings 4-3
The Aberdeen Wings started the weekend in a three-way tie for third place — and after a 4-3 win over the North Iowa Bulls Saturday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, they stand alone in third place, creating a bit of difference in a very tight Central Division.
It was the tenth time the two teams have faced each other this season. With two games remaining, the Wings are 8-2 over the Bulls — and this weekend’s points could prove to be very important as the regular season winds down.
Saturday’s matchup was very similar to Friday’s — Wings captain Kyle Gaffney scored first, the Wings had a very heavy advantage in shots on goal in the opening stanza and the final score was identical.
It took a bit longer for that opening goal Saturday, however. Aberdeen carried the puck into the Bulls’ zone and created a bevy of action in the goalie crease, but Gaffney was there to find the puck and tip between a Bulls player’s legs to get his team on the board first at the 10:25 mark in the first. It was his seventh goal on the season, second on the weekend, while Kevin MacKay picked up his tenth assist and Anthony Galante got his fifth.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Hunter Bolger got the equalizer just 48 seconds later. But the Wings took the lead back once again two minutes later — North Iowa goaltender Hunter Garvey made a save, but the bouncing puck was fed out to Devon Carlstrom, who fired it from the blue line through traffic and into the back of the net at the 13:14 mark. Carlstrom notched his third goal of the season, while Patrick O’Connell grabbed his fourth assist and Hugo Allais notched his 13th.
The Bulls responded once again exactly five minutes later when Byron Hartley got past Wings netminder Anton Castro, playing in his first game in front of his home crowd. Despite outshooting the Bulls 18-6, the teams headed into the first break tied at two apiece.
It took less than five minutes into the middle stanza for the Wings to get back on top over the Bulls — that’s when Owen DuBois took possession of the puck at the center line, skated into the North Iowa zone through the circle and moved into the crease, juking out Garvey to give the Wings the 3-2 lead at the 4:40 mark. He picked up his seventh goal on the season, while Will Gilson notched his 13th assist.
Once again, shots on goal weighed heavily in the Wings’ favor, outshooting the Bulls 13-7 in the middle period and preventing North Iowa from tying the game again. North Iowa killed two penalties in the period, but the Wings skated into the final break with the one-goal cushion.
That cushion doubled to two at the 11:11 mark in the third period. Cade Neilson fed the puck to Gilson at the blue line, who skated in and fired from the middle of the circle to give the Wings the 4-2 lead. The eventual game-winner was Gilson’s second goal on the weekend and seventh overall on the year, while Neilson racked up his 35th apple and Mason Kelly grabbed his second.
The insurance the Wings gained was quickly dashed when Hartley got his second goal of the game just 16 seconds later. But the Wings’ defense prevailed, shutting down North Iowa’s offense and denying an extra-man attacker for the last 31 seconds of the game to skate to the 4-3 victory and the weekend sweep.
When the dust settled, ten different Wings players recorded points in the contest, with both Neilson and Gilson grabbing three-point weekends. And for Wings head coach Steve Jennings, the diversity is important.
“When three different lines have three goals, it’s not an option for a team to focus on one group and one person,” he said after the win. “We had an opportunity to spread the wealth and make it harder for them to play against us.”
In addition to a spread out offense, he was quick to credit the team’s defensive game as well, and felt the secret to tonight’s win was a simple one.
“Our guys running our structure,” he said. “The guys understood what we want them to do, getting the shots we want. Defensively, especially in the first period, they did a good job getting back on pucks and shutting it down.”
Overall, Aberdeen outshot North Iowa 38-22, killing off three penalties along the way. Garvey stopped 34-38, while Castro denied 19 of the 22 shots he saw.
The Wings improve to 22-17-1-2 on the season — while North Iowa grabbed a point, they fall to 19-17-2-4 and sit in fifth place in the division. St. Cloud moves alone into first place after sweeping the Austin Bruins, who also grabbed a single point on the weekend after a Saturday overtime loss. Minot and Bismarck grabbed two points each after a weekend split, which means the standings look a bit different compared to the start of the weekend.
And Jennings knows how important the league points are going to be as the regular season starts to wind down, using a single word to sum up his team’s effort to take four points against a tough team.
“Incredible,” he said. “We gained a little bit of breathing room, but also closed the gap with the teams in front of us. Every game at this point is critical.”
The next chance at those points comes next weekend when the Wings hit the road to Minot, the start of a four-game stretch against the Minotauros that ends at home the last weekend of February.
“The guys have to understand the important of these games,” Jennings said of the upcoming series. “It’s a chance to take points from a team that we have games in hand on. It’s a chance to create separation in the standings. It’s important.”