The Aberdeen Wings got themselves back in the win column Saturday night with a 4-2 victory over the visiting North Iowa Bulls inside a packed Odde Ice Center.
The Wings wanted a quicker start than Friday’s matchup and did so, firing off a bevy of shots before North Iowa got one. But the Bulls went on the power play and Michael Mesic snuck one past Wings goaltender Greg Orosz at the 7:34 mark to give his team the 1-0 lead. Each team took eleven shots on goal in the opening period but the Wings found themselves trailing once again.
Things quickly turned around in the second period and Aberdeen had the advantage for the remainder of the game. Things heated up early in the middle stanza when Seamus Campbell took a long pass from Will Diamond and skated in on a breakaway, getting past Bulls netminder Hunter Garvey to tie the game at one apiece at the 1:21 mark. It was Campbell’s second goal on the weekend, 13th overall on the season, while Diamond got his third assist and Devon Carlstrom nabbed his ninth.
Exactly three-and-a-half minutes later, Kevin MacKay sent the puck into the crease and Jacob Bossé was there at the ready to tap it past Garvey for their first lead of the game at the 3:51 mark. Bossé notched his seventh goal on the year, while MacKay grabbed his eighth assist and Cade Neilson racked up his 31st.
The Wings continued to apply the pressure in the second, taking 14 shots while holding the Bulls to just six and each team killed off a penalty apiece, and the Wings faced the final 20 minutes holding onto a one-point lead.
The Bulls quickly answered back just 38 seconds into the third with another goal from Mesic to tie the game at two. But Aberdeen grabbed the lead back five minutes later — that’s when Neilson sent a bouncing puck into the North Iowa zone and Bossé won the footrace to the puck and fired a shot at Garvey. Garvey made the initial save, but Will Gilson came speeding in to fire the rebound into the back of the net at the 5:58 mark. Gilson, a recent commitment to the University of Alaska-Anchorage, got his fifth goal on the season, while Bossé picked up his 18th assist and Neilson got his second apple of the game and 32nd overall on the year.
Just 33 seconds later, the Wings doubled their lead with the game’s final goal when Patrick O’Connell grabbed the puck off a face-off in the Bulls’ zone and fired from the middle of the circle at the 6:31 mark. It was his fifth goal on the season, while Bauer Barry grabbed his third assist.
Once again, the Wings had the advantage in shots on goal in the third, doubling North Iowa’s chances 20-10. Overall, Aberdeen fired 45 shots at Garvey and limited the Bulls to just 27; Orosz denied 25 shots to get his fifth win of the season.
Not only did the Wings outshoot the Bulls, but they physically felt like a bigger presence on the ice, something Wings head coach Steve Jennings was quick to point out.
“It’s an important part: not hurting people, but getting consistent contact,” he said. “Over the last few weeks it wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be, but tonight it was good.”
Despite giving up a power play goal, the Wings remain the NAHL’s top penalty-killing unit, holding on to an 89.2 kill percentage. And for Jennings, the increased contact and goal opportunities was just what his team needed to start gaining league points in a very tight Central Division.
“It’s critical at this point,” he said about getting back into the win column. “I think it’s great for the kids to end it before it becomes a thing, a real losing streak. That was the effort we’ve been looking for for a while.”
Here’s how tight the Central Division is: the Wings started the weekend in fourth place, dropped to fifth place after Friday’s loss, and bounced back to third place after Saturday’s win. Three teams are tied for third place in the standings with 41 points each — the Wings, the Bulls and the Minot Minotauros. The St. Cloud Norsemen, who swept Minot Friday and Saturday, have 43 points. Add in the fact that the bottom-ranked Bismarck Bobcats swept the top-ranked Austin Bruins Friday and Saturday, the parity in the division is clear.
The standings will shake up again next weekend when the Wings travel to the Minotauros for a weekend away in Minot; the puck is scheduled to drop at 8:05 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login, or catch the game at Buffalo Wings & Rings, the official home for all Wings’ away games. The game’s audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock, or fans can download and listen on The Rock app.
Jennings said his team’s focus this week is clear.
“It’ll be another week of hard work,” he said. “We need to take the momentum from tonight and build into that and get ready to go next weekend.”