A defensive battle turned into an offensive onslaught for the Aberdeen Wings Friday night as they skated to a 6-3 win over the Springfield Jr. Blues.
It was the Wings’ third opponent in three days at the NAHL Showcase, and instead of slowing down, the Wings put on the gas.
A defensive battle from the start, scoring started late in the first period when Coby Weber got the Jr. Blues on the board first at the 14:40 mark. Less than four minutes later and on the power play, Cade Neilson circled the offensive zone and took a shot on goal, and defenseman Hugo Gustafsson was there to pick up the rebound and tie the game at one apiece. Gustafsson notched his first goal as a Wing, while Neilson and Nate Mann each got the assist.
Springfield took the lead back 30 seconds later when Cole Schneider snuck one past Wings netminder Jed Baliotti. When the horn sounded to end the period, Springfield edged out Aberdeen in shots on goal, 8-7, and had the 2-1 lead to go with it.
The Wings got their feet underneath them in the middle period, scoring two unanswered goals to take the lead. At the 7:34 mark, Jackson Yee picked the pocket of a Springfield defenseman and skated in a shot at Jr. Blues goalie Ethan Roberts; while the initial shot was blocked, Yee kept at it and finally poked it though for his first goal of the season. Just over a minute later, Jacob Bosse won the face off in the Jr. Blue’s zone and fed the puck to Seamus Campbell, who fired a quick shot past Roberts to give Aberdeen the 3-2 lead.
The Wings killed off two penalties in the middle stanza and outshot Springfield 14-9, and carried the one point lead into the final period.
Two quick Wings penalties at the start of the third meant the Wings had to face a 5-on-3 attack, and James Callahan took the opportunity to tie the game at three apiece at the five minute mark in the third. Still on the power play, Springfield took a penalty of their own shortly after, which meant 4-on-4 hockey, and the Jr. Blues killed the penalty when the Wings returned to full strength.
But they got another chance shortly after and only needed 13 seconds on the power play to take the lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish. Hugo Allais fed the puck down to Neilson in the corner, who went cross ice to Campbell, who took the quick one-timer and shot the puck past Roberts to notch his second goal of the game, putting the Wings up 4-3.
After an interference call against Springfield, the Wings found themselves on the power play for the fourth time in the game. With time ticking down, Gustafsson took a long shot from the blue line that found its way through traffic and into the back of the net, giving the Wings the 5-3 lead. Chase Davis and Bosse each picked up apples on the power play goal.
With Springfield trailing by two, they pulled their goalie to give themselves the extra attacker — and the Wings took several good shots at an empty net. Finally, with two seconds left on the clock, Neilson grabbed the loose puck and fired it, finally sending the puck between the pipes and giving the Wings the 6-3 lead, which is what the score would be when the final horn sounded.
A bevy of Wings players earned points during the game, something that Wings assistant coach Zach Stepan was very happy to see.
“The goal of the team that Coach Jennings has brought in is to run four lines and six defensemen and wear other teams down,” he said after the win. “That was proven in the game tonight as we had scoring all the way through the lineup.”
He was even more impressed with the success of the Wings’ special teams units, which proved once again to be very successful. The Wings gave up the season’s first penalty kill goal in their 5-on-3 attack, but remain perfect in the 5-on-4 disadvantage. In Thursday’s matchup, they went 3-4 on the power play while holding Springfield to just 1-4.
“Special teams won us a hockey game today,” Stepan said. “We had three power play goals and killed off all the five on fours. Our power play was firing on all cylinders tonight, and our special teams is the reason we ended up on top.”
Baliotti was strong in net for the Wings, denying 20 of the 23 shots he faced. Roberts blocked 22 of 28.
Aberdeen (2-1-0-0) faces their fourth opponent in their final game of the NAHL Showcase on Saturday afternoon; puck drops in Blaine at 1 p.m. against the Corpus Christi IceRays (1-2-0-0). Stepan is proud of the work his team had shown over the weekend and hopes for a strong finish.
“The biggest thing for us is getting our legs ready to go,” he said. “Leading up to the Showcase, we had a long training camp and we’re very pleased with how the guys have responded playing four games in four days.”
Fans can watch Saturday’s game using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen. The Wings will have a week of practice before heading to face the North Iowa Bulls (2-1-0-0) on Sept. 24-25. Their home opener is slated for Oct. 1-2 when they host the St. Cloud Norsemen (1-0-0-0).