The Aberdeen Wings bid farewell to 2021 on a high note Friday night, skating to a 5-3 win over the St. Cloud Norsemen in front of over 1,500 dedicated fans.
It was the third game in a row that the two teams have faced each other — the Wings took a 3-2 shootout win back on Dec. 17 before falling 4-0 on Dec. 18. After an extended break for the holiday and facing the same opponent, Wings head coach Steve Jennings wanted his team to get out early — and that’s just what they did.
The Norsemen got the puck following the opening face off and skated into the Wings’ zone, but Jacob Bosse intercepted the puck and passed it out to Ronan Walsh near center ice. He fed it cross-ice to Owen DuBois, who skated in and fired from the middle of the circle and into the back of the net just 17 seconds into the game. DuBois picked up his third goal on the year, while Walsh grabbed his fifth assist and Bosse racked up his 16th.
At the 5:51 mark and in the Norsemen zone once again, Bauer Barry took a pass near the net from Will Diamond and fed it out to Hugo Gustafsson, who fired the one-timer over the shoulder of St. Cloud goaltender Tomas Bolo to give the Wings the 2-0 lead. It was the Swedish defenseman’s third goal on the season, while Barry and Diamond each grabbed their first assists wearing the Wings’ sweater.
After coincidental roughing penalties lead to four-on-four hockey, St. Cloud got back within one when Evan Murr shot one past Wings netminder Dominik Wasik at the 12:32 mark. But the Wings answered back with time ticking down — that’s when Devon Carlstrom fired a rocket from near the blue line, which bounced off the back wall near a waiting Landry Schmuck, who grabbed the bounce from his knees and snuck the puck between Bolo’s legs to put his team back up by two with nine seconds left in the period. It was Schmuck’s seventh goal on the year, while Carlstrom grabbed his fifth assist and Wings captain Kyle Gaffney grabbed his 17th.
The Wings outshot the Norsemen 12-10, with three shots being successful — and nine different players putting up points in the process — while going 0-2 on the power play, and they headed into the first break leading 3-1.
“It was huge,” Jennings said of the first period following the game. “We needed that right away. When we start that way we’re really good, and it sets the tempo, which is great.”
St. Cloud tried to stage a comeback, starting with a goal from Nik Hong just 47 seconds into the middle period. But Aberdeen answered back just over three minutes later — Bolo had the puck behind his own net and tried passing it out, but Seamus Campbell was there to intercept and put it into a wide open net for the 4-2 lead. The eventual game-winner was his eighth goal of the season, while Schmuck got his fifth assist and Gaffney notched his second of the game and 18th overall.
The Norsemen got one more in the middle stanza when Christoper Lynch got his first goal at the 13:33 mark. St. Cloud took 16 shots while holding the Wings to 10, neither team took a penalty, and they skated into the final intermission with Aberdeen leading 4-3.
St. Cloud killed off a third penalty to open the final period and the Wings kept their one-goal cushion with back-and-forth gameplay for the majority of the period. At the 15:22 mark, Aberdeen found themselves on the penalty kill for the first time in the game — and at the 17:00 mark, took a second penalty, which led to five-on-three hockey for 22 seconds.
But the league’s top penalty-killing unit staved off the attack, then killed the second penalty, even with St. Cloud pulling Bolo from net to give themselves the six-on-four advantage. Just seven seconds after they killed the penalty, DuBois found himself in a footrace for a loose puck, which he grabbed and fired from the blue line and into the empty St. Cloud net. The insurance goal was his second of the game, fourth overall, while Chase Davis notched his sixth assist.
The Wings were able to stave off a strong Norsemen attack for 53 seconds and took the 5-3 win when the final horn sounded. St. Cloud took plenty of shots, especially with a two-man advantage for nearly three minutes, taking 12 while holding the the Wings to just six.
Overall, the Norsemen scored three times on 38 shots, while the Wings took just 28 shots. For Jennings, the types of shots the Wings took is what set them apart Friday night.
“We talked about the shots we wanted to generate and the guys did a good job hitting those shots,” he said. “That third goal was important since it was a rebound goal. Our guys stood tall in front of the net tonight and finished.”
After a long holiday break, Friday’s lineup wasn’t exactly what Jennings had envisioned. The league’s leading points-earner, Cade Neilson, ran into issues returning from his holiday at home in England and wasn’t back in Aberdeen when the game started. But Jennings said his team was prepared to fill the void and adjust with an important body missing form the equation.
“I thought it was good,” he said of the team’s response. “We didn’t have Cade in the lineup due to travel issues, and we didn’t have MacKay at 100 percent, but we had a bunch of guys who stepped up. It was a bit of a different lineup for us but it proved that we can play with anyone as long as we play the right way.”
Aberdeen went 0-3 on the power play, but once again stayed perfect on the penalty kill, staving off both Norsemen advantages. Wasik denied 35 of the 38 shots he saw en route to his eighth win of the season. Overall, eleven Wings added to their points totals in the win.
The teams square off for the fourth time in as many games Saturday night inside the Odde; doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the puck drops at 7:15 p.m. Fans can purchase tickets ahead of the game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com, or get $10 general admission tickets at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. Join in our New Year, New You fun — show your YMCA membership at the door to receive a $5 general admission ticket.
And fans are encouraged to stick around after Saturday’s game for Skate with the Wings!
For Jennings, he wants his team to grab two more league points and finish the long stretch on a positive note.
“We need to start again the right way, knowing they’ll up their effort again,” he said. “They’ll press us and we’ll need to elevate our game. We won tonight, but we were outshot. Our first and third periods were good, but we lost a little momentum in the second. So we need to maintain the start we had through all three periods.