Friday night’s game between the Aberdeen Wings and the St. Cloud Norsemen was a battle of the power play units.
At the end of regulation hockey, all six goals on the board came with the man advantage. The game’s only even-strength goal came with just over a minute remaining in overtime hockey when Landry Schmuck sealed the deal for the Wings.
But perhaps the game’s stars were Wings captain Kyle Gaffney and assistant captain Cade Neilson — Gaffney recorded a hat trick, nabbing all three regulation, power play goals, and Neilson had an assist on all four goals, tallying 61 total points so far on the year.
St. Cloud opened the scoring Friday night with a power play goal from Max Strand just under three minutes into the game. But two back-to-back penalties for the Norsemen put Aberdeen on a 5-on-3 power play less than a minute later, and the Wings responded when Will Gilson took a shot from above the blue line and Gaffney stepped in between the circles to fire the rebound home and tie the game at one apiece. It was his eleventh goal on the year, while Gilson grabbed his 18th assist and Neilson racked up his 38th.
The Norsemen got their second power play goal of the game at the 12:34 mark from Blake Perbix, taking the lead for the second time in the game, and after outshooting Aberdeen 12-9, skated into the first break leading 2-1.
St. Cloud increased their lead at the 3:29 mark in the second period when Blake Mesenburg got his team’s third power play goal of the game. Aberdeen kept firing but was once again outshot by the Norsemen, taking nine while allowing 13, and skated into the game’s final break facing a two-goal deficit.
St. Cloud found themselves in penalty trouble in the final stanza — they killed an early penalty but allowed two power play goals near the middle of the period. The first came at the 11:43 mark when Neilson passed cross-ice to Anthony Galante; his shot was blocked, but Gaffney found the rebound between the circles once again and fired the puck home to put his team back within one. Gaffney’s goal total reached twelve on the season, while Galante got his seventh assist and Neilson rose to 39 for the year.
Thirty-three seconds later, the Wings went on the power play once again, and it took another 30 seconds for them to tie the game at three apiece. At the 12:48 mark, Gaffney fed the puck to Ronan Walsh, who fed it right back as Gaffney entered between the circles once again, firing home from nearly the same spot for his third goal of the night and claiming his first hat trick on the season. It was his 13th goal on the year, while Walsh grabbed his eighth assist and Neilson claimed his 40th on the season.
Aberdeen immediately went on the power play once again after a five-minute major and game ejection, but couldn’t find the back of the net despite several good chances. The Wings took a penalty that led to 4-on-4 hockey and killed off a final, short Norseman power play — and when the final horn sounded, the teams squared off in overtime.
Overtime was light in shots on goal, with St. Cloud only managing one shot while the Wings took two. With just over a minute left in the extra time, Neilson and Schmuck broke away for a 2-on-1 opportunity, with Neilson giving a backdoor pass to Schmuck, who fired the puck into the back of the net to get the win. Schmuck recorded his tenth goal on the year, while Neilson grabbed his fourth assist of the game and 41st overall.
When the dust settled, Aberdeen went 3-8 on the power play while the Norsemen were 3-5.
“There wasn’t an even strength goal scored by either team in the game, so it was huge,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said of his special teams unit. “I was frustrated that we were not clean on the penalty kill but was happy to see we settled it down for the last couple we had to kill. We’ve been generating opportunities on the power play lately; it was great to see the group get rewarded tonight.”
Overall, St. Cloud took 36 shots on Wings goaltender Greg Orosz, who denied 33 en route to his seventh win of the season, and Aberdeen got 27 shots off on Norsemen netminder Ethan Dahlmeir.
“Greg played well and gave us the opportunity to win,” Jennings said of his goalie. “I was glad to see that he did not get rattled when they scored on the power play.”
He was most impressed with the leadership duo of Gaffney and Neilson, who stepped up big when it was needed.
“It’s great to see him heating up,” Jennings said of his captain. “He’s a leader on and off the ice. He plays with confidence and gives that to his teammates. Cade Neilson was also an important part tonight, having an assist on all of our goals.”
The two teams will face each other again Saturday night in St. Cloud; the puck is scheduled to hit the ice at 7 p.m. The Wings’ coaching staff said the team is excited for another bout but know that the battle will be another tough one.
“One of the best hockey mentors I have advised me years ago that you should not criticize or complain in a win. We have areas we want to improve on for tomorrow night and will work to implement them,” Jennings said. “While the players were happy to get the win, we all know we have work to do for tomorrow night. They should bring confidence into tomorrow’s game but will need to better to get the Saturday night win.”
Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login or catch the action at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for Wings away games. Listen to Jay Kleinknecht, the Voice of the Wings, on Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock, or download The Rock app.