The Aberdeen Wings continued their league dominance Friday night, defeating the St. Cloud Norsemen 4-2 and picking up their 40th win of the season in the process.
Aberdeen snagged the elusive title of Central Division Champions after a Bismarck loss Thursday, but cemented their position Friday night with nine different players collecting points for the Wings.
Defenseman Kevin MacKay got the scoring started for Aberdeen at the 10:51 mark in the first period, picking up the rebound off a shot from Jake Goldowski. Will Arquiett also assisted on the goal. A Norsemen penalty put the Wings on the power play later in the period and, at the 17:46 mark, Natan Vertes gave the Wings the two-point cushion off a quick face-off pass from Clay Cosentino. Vertes got his 20th goal of the season, while Cosentino racked up his league-leading 37th assist and Cade Neilson picked up his 30th. The Wings headed into the first intermission leading 2-0.
St. Cloud got one back early in the second period when Hunter Hanson scored at the 4:28 mark. However, the Norsemen found themselves facing down a 5-on-3 Wings advance ten minutes later; with four seconds left on the power-play, Payton Matsui notched his 23rd goal of the season, assisted by Nico deVita, who picked up his 28th assist of the season, and Thomas Manty, who recorded his 21st. Once again, the Wings skated into the final intermission with the two-point cushion leading 3-1.
Exactly 15 minutes into the final period, St. Cloud got back within one when Thor Byfuglien scored his first goal as a Norseman. With two minutes left in regulation, St. Cloud pulled goalie Josh Langford, giving the Norsemen the man-advantage — but seconds later, Jake Goldowski got his seventh goal on the season in the empty net, and the Wings held off St. Cloud defensively to claim the 4-2 win.
“Defensive hockey wings championships,” Wings head coach and general manager Scott Langer said. “We are still growing in that area as a team. Jake (Sibell) was solid tonight, stopping some big time chances that allowed us to win the game.”
Sibell stopped 19 of the 21 shots sent his way, staying atop the league’s goalie list with a 1.14 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage. St. Cloud’s Langford stopped 27-30.
Aberdeen scored on two of their five power play chances without having to kill a single penalty from the Norsemen, a fact that was not lost on Langer.
“In order to win on the road, you have to be a disciplined team,” he said. “We did that, giving us a chance to win. When you play hard and fast and have the puck, it’s usually not you that’s taking the penalties.”
Aberdeen outshot the Norsemen 31-21, propelled by a lopsided second period where the Wings took 15 shots compared to just five from St. Cloud. They improve to 40-3-0-1 on the year, refusing to lose two consecutive games yet this season.
“Tonight was important to get back to our identity,” Langer said. “We felt we were getting off track a bit with the toughness of our schedule and lack of practice. We executed well in all areas and played a good road game.”
The teams will face each other again Saturday afternoon in St. Cloud for a 4 p.m. puck drop inside the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen. The game’s audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.