Despite the final score, Wings head coach Steve Jennings was very happy with how his team played on Saturday night inside the Odde Ice Center.
After leading 2-0 in the first period, the Wings fell 5-4 in a shootout loss against the Minot Minotauros — but Jennings said that he was proud of how his team played and saw a lot of good things happen.
“I was very happy with our puck possession, our special teams, how we chased their goalie,” he said after the game. “Overall, we played a completely different game than last night, from start to finish. If you’re only looking at the score, you’ll miss what happened tonight, which was a lot of good stuff.”
He referred to the amount of time the Wings had the puck on their stick, how Minot swapped goalies after a third Wings goal, another night of a perfect penalty kill and going 50 percent on the power play, and nearly doubling Minot’s shots on goal.
“We’re the top in the league on the penalty kill, and our power play is back over 20 percent, which is huge,” he said. “When you look at what happened tonight, our power play has been producing regularly every game.”
The Wings got on the board first at the 3:47 mark in the opening period when Ronan Walsh took a pass from Cade Neilson and fired from the middle of the circle past Minot goaltender Zach Sandy. It was Walsh’s tenth goal of the season, while Neilson grabbed his 26th.
The duo got the Wings a two-goal cushion at the 11:20 mark in the first when Neilson fed the puck to Walsh, who fired from outside the circle for his second goal of the night and eleventh overall. Neilson’s assist was his 27th overall on the year.
Aberdeen dominated shots on goal, taking 14 while holding the Minotauros to eight, and also killed a Minot power play to skate into the first break leading 2-0.
Minot was able to tie the score in the second period. Their first goal came at the 1:26 mark from Huston Karpman, and the second at the 2:57 mark from Braydon Beahm. But Aberdeen answered back less than three minutes later when Hugo Allais got the puck just ahead of the blue line and fired a wrist shot that went top shelf for the 3-2 lead. The goal was Allais’ fourth on the season, while Anthony Galante got his third apple and Wings captain Kyle Gaffney got his 14th.
Minot tied the game at three when Connor McGrath scored at the 9:29 mark, but the Wings answered back again on the power play at the 13:42 mark. That’s when Galante faked a shot from the point and instead fed the puck to Neilson, who was waiting in the circle to bury the puck past Carter Clafton, who had replaced Sandy in net for Minot. Neilson grabbed his 14th goal of the season; Galante notched his second assist of the game and fourth overall, and Gaffney also got his second of the game and 15th overall.
Minot only got six shots off in the middle stanza, but three of them found the back of the net. The Wings tripled that number, taking 18, and skated into the final break with a one-goal cushion.
The Minotauros killed off a four-on-three attack near the start of the third period, while the Wings killed off two more penalties of their own. With the Wings still leading 4-3 as the game’s final seconds ticked down, Minot snuck one past Wings goaltender Jack Wieneke with just five seconds left in regulation hockey, effectively sending the game to overtime.
Overtime was the only time the Minotauros were able to keep up with the Wings in shots on goal, with each team taking four. But after five minutes of extra hockey, the game’s fate went to a shootout. Zach Simon and Karpman each scored for Minot, while Neilson was Aberdeen’s only skater to score.
“Tonight was a more typical demonstration of what we’re doing offensively,” Jennings said. “Last night was an outlier — the last time we only scored one goal was back in October.”
Overall, the Wings outshot Minot 48-29, something Jennings does not take lightly. He credited a lot individual players who stepped up and delivered in ways that really pleased him.
“Galante has been getting better and better; we’re happy with his progression,” he said. “He stepped up and filled a role in special teams when Bosse was getting stitched up, and he stepped up to perform and did his job. Neilson was awesome tonight, three points. In the past 14 games, he’s only had one game where did didn’t add points. Our centers were very good on draws tonight.”
He also credited Jackson Yee, who Jennings announced as an assistant captain just moments before the game began.
“It’s well-deserved,” he said of his forward’s new ‘A.’ “The room loves him and respects him and he plays the right way.”
Aberdeen had a new face between the pipes in Wieneke, who joined the team earlier this week after Greg Ororz returned to Hungary to participate for his country in the World Juniors tournament.
“Jack played better than his goals-against average tonight,” Jennings said. “It was tough for him coming in as an affiliate and he did a great job. He made a couple of big saves in the first period and others through the game, some momentum shifting saves. He did not give us a reason to doubt that he can play in the league.”
After scoring one power play goal in two chances, the Wings improve to 20.5 percent with the extra attacker. And after killing off four penalties, they remain the league’s top penalty-killing unit with 90.5 percent.
“The penalty kill is critical because if we can negate someone else’s power play, it gives us a game-by-game advantage,” Jennings said. “The guys involved in the kill have huge pride in it and the kids on the bench want to be a part of it.”
Despite the loss, the Wings had a very successful jersey auction following the game, with proceeds directly benefiting the DTOM Veteran’s Ranch south of town. The team wore specialty jerseys designed by their staff, which was something Jennings — a veteran himself — was honored to be a part of.
“It blew me away, the generosity of the people in this town,” he said. “The number of people who stayed to bid — the crowd tonight was unreal.”
The Wings hit the road this weekend at St. Cloud before kicking off their holiday break and returning to home ice on New Year’s Eve when they host the Norsemen inside the Odde. Fans can watch the upcoming away games using their HockeyTV login, or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. The game’s audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.