Solid defense gives Wings first win of the season

The Aberdeen Wings relied on experience and solid defense to find their first win of the 2021-22 season, skating to a 4-3 victory over the Johnstown Tomahawks in their first matchup at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, MN.

Two veterans found the back of the net during Wednesday’s matchup, as well as two players new to the Wings roster.

Scoring started quickly in the afternoon game, but not the way the Wings wanted. Johnstown’s Jacob Badal found an early breakaway to give the Tomahawks the 1-0 lead just 23 seconds into the game. But Aberdeen answered two minutes later when Wings veteran Cade Neilson flew through traffic to grab the rebound and tie the game 1-1. Fellow veteran Kyle Gaffney grabbed his first assist of the season.

The two teams held off the attack for the remainder of the period, with each team killing a penalty apiece. Aberdeen took ten shots on Johnstown’s Salvatore Evola, holding their opponent to eight in the opening 20 minutes.

The Tomahawks were the first to strike again in the middle period when Holt Oliphant gave his squad the 2-1 lead. But the Wings were quick to answer again three minutes later with a power play goal from Nate Mann. Gaffney assisted once again, as well as Hugo Allais. Aberdeen finally got the edge they were looking for when they took the lead at the 12:52 mark — that’s when Chase Davis found himself in the right place at the right time, rebounding a shot from Michael Reed. It was Davis’ first goal as a Wing, as well as Reed’s and Jacob Bosse’s first assists of the season.

Wings goaltender Jed Baliotti made a big save to keep his team on top, and the Wings defense killed off two extra-man attacks, including a penalty that stretched into the final period. Aberdeen once again outshot Johnstown 10-8 and headed into the final break leading 3-2.

In the final 20 minutes, Aberdeen struck again when Allais got his first goal as a Wing, taking a shot from just outside the circle to give the Wings the 4-2 lead at the 8:16 mark. Mann picked up his first assist of the season, while Gaffney racked up an impressive third of the game. Baliotti kept his team on top with more big saves, but the Tomahawks brought themselves back within one with another goal from Oliphant with three-and-a-half minutes left in regulation play.

With a one-goal lead, Aberdeen’s defense stepped up to the challenge, staving off an extra attacker, and held onto the 4-3 lead when the final horn sounded.

Wings head coach Steven Jennings said he was happy with his team’s defensive play, which killed off three penalties over the course of the game, plus the extra attacker when Johnstown pulled Evola in the game’s final minute.

“We had a few lapses that gave a little momentum, but overall I was pleased,” he said after the win.

Jed Baliotti picked up his first win wearing the Wings sweater, denying 21 of the 24 shots sent his way. Gaffney notched three assists in the game, while Mann and Allais each snagged a goal and an assist. Overall, the Wings outshot Johnstown 30-24 en route to the win.

As for Jennings, he’s happy to get that first game — and first win — out of the way.

“It feels great,” he said. “I am excited for the boys. They’ve been working hard and it’s good to see the pieces coming together.”

Aberdeen hits the ice again tomorrow for their second of four games slated at the Showcase. Thursday’s matchup will be a repeat, of sorts, of last year’s national championship game as the Wings and the Shreveport Mudbugs face off at 7:15 p.m. But Jennings is looking forward to the action.

“It’s not bad,” he said of facing a new team each day. “It’s a bit of a different between-game schedule, but refreshing to a point. We’re fortunate that we have time to watch and plan. The best part is we are all facing the same timing between games.”

Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login or catch the action at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen.