Facing their fourth game in as many days at the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Showcase in Blaine, MN, the Aberdeen Wings were facing both an out-of-division opponent as well as a test of pure endurance.
And at the end of 60 minutes of hockey against the Corpus Christi IceRays, the Wings skated to a 4-3 victory, effectively going 3-1-0-0 over the grueling weekend.
Scoring started just over five minutes into the game when Patrick O’Connell picked off a pass, skated between three defenders and went top shelf to put the Wings on top 1-0, nabbing his first goal as a Wing. Less than three minutes later, the Aberdeen picked the IceRays’ pocket once again when Jacob Bosse stole the puck and backhanded it to Chase Davis, who tapped a backhand pass to Kyle Gaffney, who came flying down the middle for a rocket to give the Wings the 2-0 cushion. It was Gaffney’s second goal on the year, Davis’ first assist and Bosse’s third.
The Wings committed robbery once more in the closing seconds of the first when Cade Neilson stole the puck, which was then picked up by Gaffney. His pass to the center was deflected, but Neilson took the quick shot and banked the puck in off an IceRays defenseman to give his team the 3-0 lead. The Wings took nine shots while holding Corpus Christi to six, and a third of their shots were successful as they headed into the first break with the three-point cushion.
“We talked before the game of the importance of getting back on pucks,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “This was our fourth game in four days and we had barely been out of the rink for twelve hours between games three and four, so the details were important, especially at the start.”
The IceRays came back firing in the middle period, edging out the Wings 7-6 in shots on goal. Wings netminder Kyle Kozma kept them at bay, making two big backdoor saves early in the period, but a two-on-one drive ended the shutout when Oliver Stumpel snuck the puck past Kozma to put his team on the board. The Wings went on the power play three times in the period but couldn’t get the job done, and team headed into the final break with Aberdeen leading 3-1.
In the game’s final stanza, the Wings’ power play unit finally sent one past IceRays goaltender Damon Beaver. Nate Mann passed it out to Kevin MacKay, who shot a rocket from the blue line right through traffic and into the back of the net, making it 4-1 Wings. MacKay, a returning defenseman on the Aberdeen squad, got his first goal of the season, while Mann racked up his fourth assist on the year, and Neilson grabbed his second.
Corpus Christi kept the fight alive at the 16:30 mark when Cameron Crolley scored a power play goal of his own to bring his team back within two. Then, with two seconds left in the game and the Wings facing a 6-on-4 attack, Grady Friedman scored a power play goal to bring the score to 4-3. But with only two seconds remaining in regulation play, Aberdeen kept the puck out of their net and took their third win of the season.
The two teams matched shots on goal, each taking 22. Kozma denied 19 shots on his way to his first win wearing the Wings sweater, while Beaver stopped 18.
After 240 minutes of hockey over the course of four days at the Showcase, Jennings was happy with his team’s ability to endure the exhausting weekend.
“They handled it well. Overall, we were really happy with them,” he said. “Puck management and mental focus needs to improve, but they showed real resilience this weekend.”
Gaffney’s goal seemed to boost the momentum the Wings wanted to finish out the weekend. After two empty-net near misses the previous night, he said it felt good to get one to his name in Saturday’s game. And after recently being named Wings captain, Jennings was very happy with how he led his team over the long weekend away.
“He leads by example,” he said. “He cares for his teammates and the people around him. He is a great role model for his teammates and is the ultimate Wing.”
Aberdeen heads to Mason City, Iowa to face the North Iowa Bulls on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24-25. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login, or at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home of Wings away games.
They’ll finally return home for their home opening weekend on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1-2 when they host the St. Cloud Norsemen. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. puck drop. Tickets can be purchased ahead of the game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com, or at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. Season tickets are also still available by calling Aaron at 605-380-5852.