The NA Now series features a look at all teams in the NAHL for the 2021-22 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Steve Jennings (1st season)
2020-21 record: 56 GP, 51-4-1, 103 pts. (1st in the Central Division)
2020-21 leading scorer: Payton Matsui (65 points)
2021 Playoffs: Lost to Shreveport in the Robertson Cup Championship Game, 4-2
2021-22 Division: Central
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 15th vs. Johnstown Tomahawks
Home opener: Friday, October 1st vs. St. Cloud Norsemen
Since winning the Robertson Cup back in May of 2019, the Aberdeen Wings have been on a two-year roller coaster ride that saw the team elevate to an unprecedented level of success this past season. Led by NAHL Coach and General Manager of the Year Scott Langer who, in the process, became the all-time NAHL wins leader on January 2, 2021, the Wings took yet another step forward as an organization in 2020-21.
The Wings didn’t miss a beat and shattered numerous NAHL regular season records in 2020-21. The Wings established new NAHL records for wins in a season (51) and points in a season (103), which was all done in only 56 games. The Wings’ winning percentage of .920 was 2nd all-time in NAHL history, as were the team’s four regulation losses. In addition, a total of 16 players on the Wings 2020-21 roster committed to play NCAA hockey. The Wings had four of the six players on the All-Central Division team, the NAHL’s Most Valuable Player and Goaltender of the Year (Jake Sibell), the Forward of the Year (Payton Matsui) and the Community Service Award winner (Clayton Cosentino) to go along with the NAHL’s Organization of the Year honor.
The Wings found themselves right where they were two years ago, in the Robertson Cup Championship Game after winning the Central Division Playoff title and then sweeping the Minnesota Magicians in the Robertson Cup Semi-Finals. In the title game, which was a match-up against the 2018 Robertson Cup Champion Shreveport Mudbugs, the Wings ultimately fell short in the Championship, 4-2.
Just a month after the title game, the Wings roller coaster continued as it was announced that Langer had accepted the head coaching position with the Fargo Force in the USHL. He departs the NAHL as its all-time wins leader with 637 regular season wins after 17 seasons as a head coach in the league. However, it did not take long for the Wings for find Langer’s replacement as the team named Steve Jennings as its next head coach to direct the team into the 2021-22 season.
Jennings is no stranger to Langer or the Wings, having worked directly with Langer since the 2004-05 hockey season and has been the Wings’ Director of Player Personnel since 2016. Most recently, Jennings served as head coach of the Nashville Junior Predators, an 18-and-under Tier 1 AAA team. He’s also the Tier 1 director for the Junior Predators, as well as the director of operations for Total Package Hockey.
“Having been involved in helping Scott (Langer) build that team last season, I can tell you it was a special group,” Jennings said. “It was a history-making group of players who did a great job navigating a challenging season. There was a lot to be proud of and what was accomplished was something we haven’t seen in NAHL history. That was a really special group of players and in a one-game winner-take-all scenario for a Championship, it just wasn’t meant to be. Shreveport played really well, so hats off to them. That type success gives us as an organization a lot of confidence heading into this season.”
The Wings turnover will be significant from last year to this year. Last season, the team was the second oldest in the NAHL and 11 of the top 12 scorers from 2020-21 either age out or are headed off to play NCAA Division I hockey.
“We have to replace a lot of scoring and a lot of leadership. You also have to figure out how to replace the league MVP in Jake Sibell, who had a historical season in goal,” Jennings said. “I think it just means there is an opportunity for a new crop of players to make the same type of impact. I think you will see a similar style of play as to what was here previously, but I fully expect us to be a playoff contender and make a case to go back to the Robertson Cup. Any change like this will have some growing pains, but I like our group and I like the leadership coming back.”
Part of that leadership returning includes forwards Kyle Gaffney, Cade Neilson, Jackson Yee, along with defensemen Kevin McKay and Devon Carlstrom.