After the Aberdeen Wings swept the Austin Bruins to advance to the Central Division finals last Friday, they had to wait nearly a full 72 hours before learning who their opponent would be.
And after St. Cloud defeated Bismarck in Game 5 Monday night, the Wings learned they’ll head to Minnesota to face the Norsemen this Friday and Saturday, May 6-7 for the first two games in a best-of-five series to advance in the Robertson Cup playoffs.
The Wings and the Norsemen met just eight times over the 60-game regular season, with Aberdeen going .500 against the eventual Central Division regular season champs — Aberdeen had two regulation wins, one overtime win and one shootout win, and lost the other four games in regulation.
Despite the Norsemen having the best regular season record (41-16-2-1), they met a formidable foe in their semifinal round against the Bobcats. They scored twelve goals in five games while allowing nine, taking one overtime loss and one regulation loss before winning the final two games of the series to advance to the finals.
The Wings, on the other hand, finished the regular season 31-24-3-2 and have had more success in the postseason so far, scoring 13 goals in three games while allowing seven goals against.
Ryan O’Neill led the team in scoring for St. Cloud this season, racking up 80 points (30 goals, 50 assists) for the Norsemen in 57 games played. He was followed by Blake Mesenburg (27 goals, 35 assists, 62 points) and Blake Perbix (24 goals, 30 assists, 54 points). Current Minnesota Mr. Hockey Max Strand joined the squad late in the season, recording 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 16 games played.
O’Neill is at the top of the scoring list in the postseason as well, notching five assists in five games. Perbix and Strand have added two goals and two assists so far, while four players have three points so far.
Cade Neilson led all scorers for Aberdeen, notching 75 points (26 goals, 49 assists) in 58 games played. Wings captain Kyle Gaffney notched 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists), while Jacob Bosse (12 goals, 22 assists) and Will Gilson (10 goals, 24 assists) each grabbed 34 points in the regular season.
In postseason play, the points for the Wings are much more spread out. Bosse (two goals, two assists) and Gaffney (four assists) lead Wings scorers, while three players each notched three points in the three games and six players have two points so far.
Aberdeen will have to face St. Cloud without their top scorer, however, as Neilson is making an early departure to head back to his home country of England, where he’s been selected to represent Team Great Britain in the 2022 IIHF World Championships in Finland. He’ll begin play on May 13.
In the upcoming series, Wings bring the edge on the power play, going 3-12 with the man-advantage (25 percent). The Norsemen capitalized on 3-14 opportunities, good for 21.4 percent. St. Cloud’s penalty-killing unit stood tall in the opening round of playoffs, holding the Bobcats to 1-15, good for an impressive 93.3 percent, while the Wings sit at 69.5 percent after allowing four goals in 13 chances.
The first two games of the Central Division Finals will take place inside the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex on Friday and Saturday, May 6-7 with a 7 p.m. scheduled puck drops both nights. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login, or catch the action live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. Listen to the game’s audio via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.
The Wings will return to the Odde for Game 3 on Friday, May 13. If needed, Game 4 will also be at the Odde on Saturday, May 14, and if the series moves to Game 5, the teams will return to St. Cloud on Monday, May 16.
Stay tuned to AberdeenWings.com for game day updates, or follow the team on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram