The battle between the Aberdeen Wings and the Bismarck Bobcats went back and forth Saturday night in front of a packed crowd inside the Odde Ice Center.
The Wings grabbed the first two goals while the Bobcats got the second two — but Aberdeen took the last two of the night, continuing their rise up the Central Division standings with a 4-2 win, their fourth consecutive.
It was the Wings’ first game since Nov. 12 after getting the previous weekend off, as well as no game Friday night. And they made quick work getting on the board first.
Luke Backel started the game’s scoring with time winding down on the Wings’ first and only power play opportunity of the game. After delivering a big hit behind Bismarck’s net, he found himself between the circles, redirecting a shot fired by Patrick O’Connell for the 1-0 lead at the 6:46 mark. The goal was Backel’s second on the season, while O’Connell racked up his eleventh assist and Landon Parker notched his ninth.
Just over a minute later, the Wings doubled their lead when O’Connell swung the puck around the boards behind Bismarck’s net and Nikolai Tishkevich was there to make a backhand centering pass to a wide open Landon Parker, who fired from close range past Bobcats’ netminder Lindards Lipskis at the 8:01 mark. Parker grabbed his fifth goal on the year, while Tishkevich picked up his seventh assist and O’Connell got his second of the game, 12th overall.
The teams played four-on-four hockey in the closing minutes of the period but neither team managed to score. The Wings outshot Bismarck 13-11 and headed into the first break with the two-goal lead.
The Bobcats got back within one when Adam Pietila scored at the 3:32 mark. Coincidental penalties later in the period led to another bout of four-on-four hockey and Aberdeen killed two penalties after that, standing tall against a tough Bismarck power play unit. The Bobcats outshot the Wings 11-9, but Aberdeen kept the lead heading into the game’s final 20 minutes.
But it was Bismarck who found the first goal of the third, tying the game at two apiece when Calvin Hanson scored at the 7:12 mark. Seeing their lead dissolve, Aberdeen went on their third penalty kill just under three minutes later — but a shorthanded goal gave the Wings the lead back. That’s when Owen DuBois stole the puck near the center line and made his way into Bismarck’s zone, fighting off a defender and sending a backhand shot into the back of the net for the 3-2 lead at the 10:59 mark. He picked up his second goal of the year, while Nick Justice notched his first assist as a Wing.
The Wings killed off the remainder of the penalty and kept the lead as the game’s final minutes approached. With just over two minutes on the clock, Bismarck gave themselves the extra attacker when Lipskis was pulled from between the pipes — but a minute after that, Aberdeen got the insurance goal they were looking for. An errant Bobcat shot bounced up to the neutral zone and O’Connell won the footrace to the puck, moving around one defender before centering to Tishkevich, who tucked it into the empty net at the 18:42 mark in the third. Tishkevich got his ninth goal on the season, while O’Connell picked up yet another assist, this third of the game and team-leading 14th overall on the season.
With Lipskis back in net, neither team scored in the game’s final minute, and Aberdeen took the 4-2 win and the two coveted league points.
The Wings applied the pressure in the third, taking 12 shots and holding Bismarck to 9, overall outshooting the Bobcats 34-31 in the contest. Aberdeen was a perfect 1-1 with the man-advantage while holding Bismarck’s tough power play unit to 0-3 and scoring the game-winning shorthanded goal in the process.
“They’re putting the time in. Our guys are doing a good job of wanting to be better,” Wings head coach Scott Langer said. “Coach Stepan does a really good job on the power play and he’s got a good feel for the personnel and what we need to do in order to be successful against the opposition. That’s going to continue to improve and that’s exciting.”
He also applauded his penalty kill unit, who shut down Bismarck’s division-leading power play unit that had a 24.7 success rate heading into Saturday’s game.
“On the kill, we knew we were facing one of the top power plays in the league, and we knew that if we didn’t shut those guys down that they probably would have won the hockey game,” he said. “Our guys were up to the task in special teams, and we won the special teams war and we won the game.”
Wings goaltender Cole Moore made several highlight-worthy saves, keeping his team within striking distance for a full 60 minutes. After an injury to fellow netminder Geno Pichora, Saturday’s game was Moore’s 15th consecutive — but he still denied 29 of the 31 shots he faced for his tenth win on the season.
“It’s really hard in this level to play as many games in a row as Cole has, and we’ve really put a lot of pressure on him,” Langer said. “But he’s up to the task. There’s a reason he has a scholarship at Bowling Green. He’s improved his game since Day One being in Aberdeen.”
And with Pichora’s return to the ice inching closer, he feels confident in his one-two punch between the pipes.
“Now, with Geno coming back, we’re going to have a good tandem as both of those guys can win us hockey games,” he said.
Next, the Wings (11-7-1-2) will head to Bismarck (9-11-2-1) for a road weekend inside the VFW Sports Center on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3. Aberdeen’s next home game will be the following weekend when they host the Austin Bruins on Dec. 9-10.
The Wings have had to fight for points in a tough Central Division — after trailing by two, Aberdeen found a comeback overtime win on Nov. 12. And Saturday’s contest saw them get the lead, lose it and then take it right back. And that’s something that Langer is proud to see from the players in his locker room.
“I think that’s one of the qualities of our team, actually: we don’t feel like we’re ever out of a hockey game,” he said. “We continue to press on. We’re going to be in a lot of battles, and have been, and as of late we’re finding ways to take points. And at this time in the season, that’s the most important thing.”