Bobcats fight off late Wings rally

Nov 20, 2021

The Aberdeen Wings faced a really tough 2:37-long slump Friday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, allowing four goals in that span. They clawed back, making a dash to rectify the deficit, but came up one goal short, skating to a 5-4 loss to the Bismarck Bobcats.

The Wings got on the board first at the 14:26 mark in the first period when Landry Schmuck grabbed a pass and fired from the middle of the circle for a power play goal. It was his fifth goal on the year, while Hugo Allais grabbed his fifth assist and Seamus Campbell picked up his seventh.

Ronan Walsh got the Wings on the board quickly in the middle stanza, skating down the ice and firing a rocket from the top of the circle and into the back of the net just 23 seconds into the period. This made the fifth straight game that Walsh has scored, racking up his seventh overall on the year. Cade Neilson tallied his division-leading 18th assist, while defenseman Will Gilson notched his fourth.

That’s when Bismarck went on a run that the Wings couldn’t recover from.

Quinn Rudrud scored at the 5:16 mark, putting his team back within one. He tied the game just 15 seconds later after quick movement following the face-off. Another 23 seconds later, Eddie Shepler gave the Bobcats their first lead of the game, and Paul Huglen increased the lead to two a minute-and-a-half later.

Needing to change things up and cause a spark, Jennings pulled goaltender Greg Orosz and placed Dominik Wasik between the pipes. But at the 12:15 mark in the second, Owen Michaels found an opening to give Bismarck the 5-2 lead. The Wings outshot the Bobcats in both periods, but Bismarck headed into the final intermission with the three-point cushion.

Jacob Bosse wasted no time getting the Wings back within striking distance, picking up a rebound in front of the crease less than a minute into the third period. It was his third goal of the year, while Gilson snagged his second assist of the game, fifth overall, and Kevin MacKay picked up his fourth.

The Wings struck again at the 3:50 mark in the third when Anthony Galante picked up a loose puck in the crease and backhanded it into the side of the net to bring Aberdeen back within one. It was his third goal as a Wing; Neilson grabbed his 19th overall — with 12 of those assists coming in the last seven consecutive games — and Walsh added his first apple to his name.

The Wings continued to apply the pressure in the final period, taking 16 shots while limiting the Bobcats to just six. But even after pulling Wasik from goal with less than a minute to play, they couldn’t find that one last goal and took the 5-4 loss.

Overall, Aberdeen outshot Bismarck 41-25, but Wings head coach Steve Jennings knows that’s not the number that matters on the scoreboard.

“We’re getting shots from the perimeter, but not getting the secondary shots from the interior,” he said after the game. “I think we’re getting there. I think we need to keep getting those shots and getting to the middle of the ice.”

With late roster additions like Ronan Walsh adding to the mix of a younger team, Jennings said that he’s seeing the progress his team is making, but is also aware of needing to make some tweaks.

“Ronan Walsh brings consistent energy, consistent performance, he’s a reliable scorer. You’re starting to see some more reliability coming out of the younger guys,” he said. “Anthony Galante, we brought in for just what he’s doing for us and he brings it every night, which is really good. Despite the result, we’re seeing movement. We just have to find that consistency.”

Wings captain Kyle Gaffney echoed his coach’s words.

“Consistency right now is our biggest problem,” he said. “As a team, we are making steps and it’s definitely gotten a lot better since the start of the season.”

Nearing the one-third mark of the 2021-22 hockey season, the Wings are 9-9-0-1, sitting in fourth place in a tight Central Division. Gaffney said that his team needs to fix some stuff in the defensive zone to prevent them from relying on the goalies too much, which will also help with their consistency.

“We’ve got to play the full 60 minutes,” he added. “We can’t take any time off. It showed tonight — we were on them for a good 45 minutes of that game, and the other 15 cost us.”

Jennings said that he was happy with his special teams, who went 1-2 on the power play, while their league-leading penalty kill was a perfect 0-2.

“When your special teams go like that, you’re generally in a position to win a hockey game,” he said. “Our third period was really strong; I didn’t like our start but we got through that first penalty kill and built some momentum and we finished the first period good. That middle chunk of the second period made life really hard.”

The Wings will travel to Bismarck to play the Bobcats for the fourth consecutive game. They’ve delivered the Bobcats two losses on their home ice inside the VFW Sports Center so far this season, and Jennings said he would like to finish out the series strong.

“We can’t give up those opportunities we gave up. The mistakes we made tonight in the second period found their way to the back of the net quick,” he said. “That’s not always a typical night, but they did. Dom and Greg both are competing, we need strong goaltending to push us through and I think we’ll get to that point.”

Fans can watch Saturday’s matchup using their HockeyTV login or live a Buffalo Wings & Rings, the official home for all Wings away games. The game’s audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.

The Wings return to the Odde to finish November on home ice when they host the Minot Minotauros on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 26-27.