Sitting in the middle of perhaps the tightest Central Division seen in a while, the Aberdeen Wings needed to gut out a road win Friday night — and they did just that, skating to a 3-1 victory against the Minot Minotauros at Pepsi Rink inside Maysa Arena in Minot.
The Wings had solid puck possession, another strong showing from special teams and a big performance from newcomer Anton Castro between the pipes. And with the win, they solidified their third place standing with 43 total league points.
Aberdeen came out firing to start the game, with their defensive game stepping up and preventing the Minotauros from taking their first shot on goal until over seven minutes into the contest. The Wings had the man-advantage three times in the opening period but failed to score, and after outshooting Minot 10-7, the teams skated into the first break tied at zero.
Just over three minutes into the middle stanza, the Wings found themselves on the power play for the fourth time in the game, and that was when they were finally able to crack Minot goaltender Lassi Lehti just 30 seconds into the man-advantage. Chase Davis found himself open in the middle of the circle and fired a wrist shot into the back door that snuck through the side of the net to give the Wings the 1-0 lead at the 3:51 mark. Davis grabbed his fourth goal on the season, while Hugo Allais picked up his twelfth assist and Landry Schmuck got his eighth.
The Wings killed off their first penalty of the game later in the period and continued to apply the pressure on the Minotauros. That paid off big time when Anthony Galante stole the puck deep in the Minot zone and skated in by himself, tucking the puck into the back of the net for the 2-0 lead at the 9:35 mark. The unassisted goal and eventual game-winner was his fourth on the season.
Minot had two more power play opportunities in the second, both of which the Wings killed; Aberdeen even had a good shorthanded chance as the period was winding down. The Wings took 13 shots while holding the Minotauros to nine and skated into the final break with the two-goal cushion.
Castro came up with several big saves in the game’s final period while the team killed off a fourth penalty, then used their defensive game once again to grab their third goal of the night. Galante grabbed a loose puck at the center line and once again skated in on a breakaway, using a similar move to tuck the puck past Lehti for his second goal of the night and fifth overall on the season; Wings captain Kyle Gaffney grabbed his 24th assist.
The teams took coincidental penalties just over a minute later and the second the two skaters left the penalty box, the gloves dropped for a short fight at center ice between Mason Kelly and Ben Johnson. Three minutes after that, Minot got on the board when Braydon Beahm fired from the blue line. The Minotauros made a big push at the end, pulling Lehti from between the pipes to give themselves the extra attacker, but Castro once again came up with some timely saves to keep Minot from tightening the score and Aberdeen took the 3-1 win and the two coveted league points.
“It’s really important, both for us as a group and to help us in the division,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said of the road win. “We’ve talked about not passing up opportunities and I was glad to see the boys execute.”
The Wings stayed perfect on the penalty kill, denying all five Minot chances, while going 1-5 on the power play themselves — though their final power play came with just three seconds remaining on the clock. The penalty kill unit improves to a league-leading 89.6 percent, while their 20.4 percent on the power play is good for eleventh.
Overall, Jennings was pleased with how all lines performed.
“Everyone did their jobs,” he said. “We did a much better job in limiting breakdowns, and when they did happen the group recovered quickly and efficiently.”
Overall, Aberdeen took 32 shots on Lehti while limiting the Minotauros to 25; Castro turned away 24 of those shots in his first game — and first win — as a Wing.
“I was very happy with his game,” Jennings said. “He competed for saves and came up with a couple timely, big ones. It’s tough coming in and having just a couple days with a new team, and then having to play like that. He handled it like a pro.”
The teams will have their rematch Saturday night in Minot; puck is scheduled to drop inside Maysa Arena at 8:05 p.m. CST. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all WIngs away games. Fans can also listen to the game’s audio broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock, or by downloading The Rock app.
The Wings return to the Odde on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12, when they host the North Iowa Bulls once again. Stay tuned to AberdeenWings.com or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for game updates.