ABERDEEN, SD (AberdeenWings.com) [FRI] – The Aberdeen Wings kicked off their final regular season weekend against the Minot Minotauros Friday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, skating to a 2-1 win in front of 1500 loud fans.
The win pushes the Wings (24-18-1-2) into second place in an incredibly tight Central Division.
For the fourth time in the last five games, Wings captain Kyle Gaffney kicked off the game’s scoring, giving his team the advantage halfway through the first period. Just twelve seconds into their first and only power play opportunity of the night, Will Gilson kept the puck in Minot’s zone and fed it to Gaffney, who fired from the blue line through traffic for his ninth goal of the year at the 10:37 mark. Gilson grabbed his 16th assist on the season, while Dominic Schimizzi notched his 13th.
Gaffney wasn’t done scoring yet, however, as he put another one in the net in the opening period’s final minute. Anthony Galante worked the puck up the wall to an awaiting Luke Amell, who fired from the blue line — and Gaffney was there in traffic to redirect the puck past Minot goaltender Lassi Lehti at the 19:01 mark. Gaffney’s goal total grew to ten on the season, while Amell picked up his first assist on the season and Galante got his sixth.
After outshooting Minot 16-11 in the opening stanza and going 1-1 on the power play, the Wings skated into the first break leading 2-0.
“The start was exactly what we wanted tonight,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said after the game. “We were active, moving into their zone. We had good puck possession, and having a couple of good goals and going into the first break up by two was good at this time of the year. It was the start we needed.”
Minot was able to catch up in shots on goal in the second period and brought the score back within one when Connor McGrath scored at the 14:28 mark.
“In the second, our energy was down,” Jennings said. “We let them gain some momentum. After the media timeout, we started to settle the game back down a bit.”
Aberdeen killed off their third penalty of the night in the third period, and Minot kept trying to even the score, pulling Lehti from between the pipes with two minutes remaining on the clock. But Wings netminder Anton Castro was solid in net and, coupled with a strong defensive push, the Wings skated to their 24th win of the season.
“Castro was tremendous tonight,” Jennings said. “He was a difference-maker for us for sure. He plays with confidence and calm in his game, which is what we need this time of year.”
With four minutes of having an extra attacker in the third period, the Minotauros outshot the Wings 31-26 overall in the loss, taking eleven shots in the third while holding Aberdeen to just five. But the Wings were perfect in special teams, going 1-1 on the power play and killing all three Minot chances.
For Jennings, he wants to finish the series on a high note.
“I think for us, getting the same start, getting out strong knowing they’ll come in with energy and finding a way to push that, that’s what we need,” he said. “Having good special teams again will be important. Special teams was another difference-maker for us tonight, and they did what we need our special teams to do.”
ABERDEEN, SD (AberdeenWings.com) [SAT] – With just one second remaining in overtime hockey and teams and fans expecting another shootout between the Aberdeen Wings and Minot, the Minotauros snuck the puck past Wings netminder Anton Castro to take a 2-1 victory Saturday night inside the Odde Ice Center.
Ronan Walsh got the Wings on the board early in the opening period when he took a cross-ice feed from Will Gilson and fired a rocket from the middle of the circle at the 3:49 mark. It was his 19th goal on the season, while Gilson picked up his 17th assist. Minot killed a penalty in the opening stanza and the Wings outshot the Minotauros 13-8, and skated into the first break with the 1-0 lead.
It was nearly 35 minutes later before another goal, but this time a power play goal from Minot’s David Nesburg as the penalty was about to expire at the 19:38 mark in the second. The Minotauros had two power play opportunities in the middle stanza, but the Wings still managed to outshoot them 10-8 and skated into the final break tied at one apiece.
The Wings started the third period with a good presence in Minot’s zone and ended up outshooting them 13-11 — and when neither team could score in the third, the teams headed to overtime.
Minot held possession of the puck for nearly the first minute of extra hockey before the Wings got a couple nice shots on goal. But a penalty with just under two minutes left was the Wings’ downfall — time trickling down, Castro made several big saves, but the extra attacker proved to be too much when Ben Johnson scored at the 4:59 mark, lifting Minot to the 2-1 victory to split the weekend.
Both of Minot’s goals came on the power play; their unit went 2-3 overall in the game, while the Wings were held to 0-1. The Wings took 37 shots on goal overall, while Castro denied 30 of the 32 shots he saw.
Despite the loss, the Wings (24-18-2-2) remain in second place in a tight Central Division, grabbing three out of four points on the weekend and holding 52 total league points. The St. Cloud Norsemen (28-14-0-1) took a big loss Saturday, their first after winning thirteen in a row, and remain in first place with 57 league points. The Austin Bruins (23-20-2-2) fall to third after being swept for the third weekend in a row and are now tied with Minot, who sits in fourth, with 50 league points. The North Iowa Bulls (21-19-2-4) and the Bismarck Bobcats (20-23-1-2) sit just outside of playoff position with 48 and 43 points, respectively.
But with just 14 points separating first and sixth place, and with most teams facing less than 15 games in the regular season, more changes are bound to come as playoffs near. Add in the fact that Bismarck has won their last five straight, coupled with the varying number of games teams have left to play, it’s no wonder that the Central Division will be the one to watch until the final weekend of the regular season, slated for April 15-16.
The current top teams — Aberdeen and St. Cloud — will face off next weekend on the Norsemen’s home ice before the Wings return to the Odde to host the Bobcats on March 11-12. Fans can watch the upcoming away games on HockeyTV (subscription required) or catch the action at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. The games’ audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.
Stay tuned to AberdeenWings.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for upcoming game announcements.