Heading into the final weekend of the 2021-22 regular season, the Aberdeen Wings needed a win Friday night in order to stay in contention for home-ice advantage in the upcoming playoffs.
But they came up one goal short against the Austin Bruins, falling 2-1 at the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen.
Austin got on the board quickly off a goal from Anthony Menghini just 1:14 into the game. The Bruins appeared to be out to a very quick start, taking eight shots before the Wings fired a single one — but by the end of the period, Aberdeen had outshot the Bruins 16-12, skating into the first break trailing by one.
Just over three minutes into the middle period, Aberdeen was awarded a 5-on-3 advantage following two Austin penalties, but Bruins goaltender Klayton Knapp stood very tall in net for his team, keeping the Wings off the board. Aberdeen was finally able get one past him at the 6:42 mark when Landry Schmuck took off from his own blue line and grabbed a pass from Kyle Gaffney at the Austin blue line, speeding past the Bruins’ defensemen and skating in alone on Knapp to tie the game. Schmuck grabbed his eleventh goal of the season, while Gaffney grabbed his 32nd assist and Devon Carlstrom notched his eleventh.
Menghini got the Bruins back on top at the 10:38 mark later in the period, grabbing the game’s final goal and eventual game-winner. The Wings once again outshot the Bruins in the second period 11-7 but once again failed to capitalize on two more power plays.
The Bruins had two power plays of their own in the game’s final period, but the Wings were still able to fire off eleven shots while holding Austin to just four. But even after pulling Wings netminder Anton Castro in the game’s final minutes and taking more quality shots against Knapp, the puck luck just wasn’t on their side.
Overall, the Wings outshot the Bruins by an impressive 37-23 but had a hard time against Knapp, the reigning Central Division Star of the Week. In fact, he’s given up just three goals in his last three consecutive games against the Wings, but Aberdeen was able to get six goals on him two weeks prior.
“I thought we played well tonight, and did a lot of the things we talked about in practice,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “Their goalie kept them in the game and gave them a change. It’s not like we got walked out of our own building. These are high-compete games with a lot of pressure and we just need to be a little bit better.”
The Wings went 0-6 on the power play but also held Austin to 0-5.
“We need the kill to be good again,” Jennings said. “We had lots of chances on the power play, and when we get those chances, the guys need to bear down and finish. There were times we maybe over-handled the puck or tried to make an extra play. That group has been very reliable in the back half of the year and I’m confident they’ll get back there. They need to.”
Jennings knows that no matter the outcome of Saturday’s game, his team will travel to Austin to take on the Bruins in the first round of the Robertson Cup playoffs. But the regular season finale will still be an important one.
“I think i’s important that we get back in the win column before we start playoffs,” he said. “Tonight we signed up to go to Austin to start the playoffs and we need to have some confidence going in there. I’m not questioning whether they believe in themselves but it always feels good to end on a strong note.”
Doors open Saturday night at the Odde at 5:30 p.m. with puck drop slated for 7:15 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets ahead of the game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com or at the door. $10 general admission tickets can also be purchased at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase.
Fans are invited to an Easter Egg scramble before the game, and are welcome to join the team for a post-game party following Saturday’s game at Buffalo Wings & Rings.