The Aberdeen Wings kicked off their final regular season weekend against the Minot Minotauros Friday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, skating to a 2-1 win in front of 1500 loud fans.
The win pushes the Wings (24-18-1-2) into second place in an incredibly tight Central Division.
For the fourth time in the last five games, Wings captain Kyle Gaffney kicked off the game’s scoring, giving his team the advantage halfway through the first period. Just twelve seconds into their first and only power play opportunity of the night, Will Gilson kept the puck in Minot’s zone and fed it to Gaffney, who fired from the blue line through traffic for his ninth goal of the year at the 10:37 mark. Gilson grabbed his 16th assist on the season, while Dominic Schimizzi notched his 13th.
Gaffney wasn’t done scoring yet, however, as he put another one in the net in the opening period’s final minute. Anthony Galante worked the puck up the wall to an awaiting Luke Amell, who fired from the blue line — and Gaffney was there in traffic to redirect the puck past Minot goaltender Lassi Lehti at the 19:01 mark. Gaffney’s goal total grew to ten on the season, while Amell picked up his first assist on the season and Galante got his sixth.
After outshooting Minot 16-11 in the opening stanza and going 1-1 on the power play, the Wings skated into the first break leading 2-0.
“The start was exactly what we wanted tonight,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said after the game. “We were active, moving into their zone. We had good puck possession, and having a couple of good goals and going into the first break up by two was good at this time of the year. It was the start we needed.”
Minot was able to catch up in shots on goal in the second period and brought the score back within one when Connor McGrath scored at the 14:28 mark.
“In the second, our energy was down,” Jennings said. “We let them gain some momentum. After the media timeout, we started to settle the game back down a bit.”
Aberdeen killed off their third penalty of the night in the third period, and Minot kept trying to even the score, pulling Lehti from between the pipes with two minutes remaining on the clock. But Wings netminder Anton Castro was solid in net and, coupled with a strong defensive push, the Wings skated to their 24th win of the season.
“Castro was tremendous tonight,” Jennings said. “He was a difference-maker for us for sure. He plays with confidence and calm in his game, which is what we need this time of year.”
With four minutes of having an extra attacker in the third period, the Minotauros outshot the Wings 31-26 overall in the loss, taking eleven shots in the third while holding Aberdeen to just five. But the Wings were perfect in special teams, going 1-1 on the power play and killing all three Minot chances.
The two teams will face each other for the final time in the 2021-22 regular season when they hit the ice Saturday night inside the Odde. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the puck drops at 7:15 p.m.
For Jennings, he wants to finish the series on a high note.
“I think for us, getting the same start, getting out strong knowing they’ll come in with energy and finding a way to push that, that’s what we need,” he said. “Having good special teams again will be important. Special teams was another difference-maker for us tonight, and they did what we need our special teams to do.”
Fans can purchase tickets for Saturday’s game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com or at the door. $10 general admission tickets are also available at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. Saturday is our Teacher Appreciation Night — teachers can show their school ID at the door for a $5 general admission ticket. We also welcome the Roncalli Elementary School choir to sing the national anthem, and we welcome Starion Bank as the game’s corporate sponsor inside the AutoMaxx Party Deck.
Fans are also invited to join us for a post-game party at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen following the game.