With the Central Division standings as tight as they could be, the Aberdeen Wings knew they needed to come away with a win Friday night.
And after an insane back-and-forth affair, in which neither team could build any cushion between the other, the Wings took home a 6-5 shootout win over the Minot Minotauros inside Maysa Arena, taking that cushion to the league points as teams settle into the final third of the 2021-22 season.
For the third time in as many games, Wings captain Kyle Gaffney was the one to open the scoring on Aberdeen’s second shot of the game, skating into the corner alone and cutting in hard for a backhanded goal just 1:45 into the contest. It was his eighth goal on the season, while Seamus Campbell got his tenth assist and Landry Schmuck grabbed his ninth.
The Wings killed a penalty before going on the power play twice themselves, but another penalty led to a penalty shot for the Minotauros, and Dean Schwenninger tied the game at one apiece at the 14:08 mark. Just over two minutes later and on the power play for the third time in the period, Aberdeen grabbed the lead once again when Campbell was at the receiving end of a cross-ice pass to go backdoor on Minot goaltender Zach Sandy, putting the Wings back up by one at the 16:28 mark. Campbell notched his 15th goal on the year, his fourth in the last five games, while Schmuck grabbed his second apple of the game and tenth overall, and Jacob Bosse got his 19th.
Not to be outdone, Minot tied the score again when Nicholas O’Hanisain fired from the blue line at the 18:56 mark. The Wings outshot the Minotauros 11-8 in the opening period and skated into the first break tied at two.
The Wings killed off a third penalty to start the middle stanza, but Minot grabbed their first and only lead of the game when Cole Mickel scored at the 6:45 mark. Wings netminder Anton Castro made some timely saves, helping his team tie the game for the third time in the contest when Kevin MacKay kept the puck in Minot’s zone and Bosse skated it in to Gilson, who fired from the edge of the circle and into the back of the net at the 13:51 mark.
Minot edged out the Wings in shots on goal in the middle period 13-12, and once again the teams faced a tie game heading to the game’s final 20 minutes — and once again, the Wings started the final period on the penalty kill.
But just 24 seconds after killing that penalty, Jackson Yee stole the puck at the center line and fed it to Dominic Schimizzi, who went around one defender and fired it home from between the circles at the 2:18 mark to put his team up 4-3. It was his first goal as an Aberdeen Wing, tenth overall on the season, while Yee picked up his fifth assist.
The Wings killed off a fifth penalty and Castro made a couple more close saves, but Colby Joseph got the redirect past him at the 8:02 mark to tie the game once again. But the Wings answered back at the 16:25 mark when Cade Neilson passed the puck across the circles to Bosse, who fired home the backdoor shot top shelf to give his the team the one-point cushion for the final time in regulation.
With under two minutes to play and on the power play once again, it looked like Aberdeen had the win in their sights — but at the 18:28 mark, Minot’s Braydon Beahm got a shorthanded goal to tie the game for the fifth and final time. The Wings couldn’t score on the remaining time with the extra attacker, and the teams headed to overtime.
Neither team managed to score in extra time, though Minot did have a 4-on-3 chance after a Wings penalty — but the Wings killed it off, their sixth kill of the game, and the game’s fate went to a shootout for the second time this season.
Gaffney skated first for the Wings, hitting the post; Minot’s first skater, David Nesburg, was denied by Castro. Schimizzi was denied on the Wings’ second shot, as was Minot’s Schwenninger. Neilson, Aberdeen’s third skater, cut across the circles and fired over the shoulder of Sandy for the advantage. And after Castro pushed Minot’s third skater Huston Karpman outside of the crease, the Wings claimed the win and two coveted league points.
“We talked about growth for our team across the season; this is what it looks like,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said after the gutted-out win. “When we have a night like this, a team that grows stays in the fight and finds a way to push through and push back. I won’t say it’s any one thing — our leaders performed as they should, producing and driving their teammates to be better, and our younger guys stepped up.”
Overall, Minot had the advantage in shots on goal, firing off 40 total shots after a surge in the third where they doubled the Wings’ shots on goal 16-8, and held Aberdeen to 34 overall. But Castro denied 35 of the the shots he faced in addition to all three shootout chances for his third win of the season.
“He owns his performance,” Jennings said of his goalie, who joined the Wings earlier this month. “I think he’s adjusting well and doesn’t get rattled when things aren’t perfect. He made some big saves tonight and stood tall in the shootout. I’m glad he’s with us.”
The Wings improve to 19.5 percent on the power play after going 1-5 on the night, while also improving to 89.9 percent on the penalty kill, remaining the league’s top killing unit after denying the Minotauros all six times. And while he wasn’t happy about the late shorthanded goal, he said his team was putting in the work they were assigned to do.
“It was guys really doing their jobs,” he said. “The group who runs the kill do a great job with it and have a lot of pride in what they do. The power play goal was great to get momentum going for us, but we can’t afford to give up a shorthanded goal, especially so late in the game.”
Aberdeen (23-17-1-2) remains in third place in the Central Division with 49 league points, but put a three-point cushion between themselves and fourth-place Minot (22-21-1-1), who gained one point in the loss and sit with 46 overall. St. Cloud remains at the top of the division with 53 points after winning their eleventh straight Friday night over Austin, while the Bruins sit just one point ahead of the Wings in second. Bismarck is at the bottom of the division, but had a big win Friday night over North Iowa, tallying 37 points overall and sitting at nine points out of a playoff spot with 17 games left in their regular season.
The Wings and the Minotauros will hit the ice again Saturday night in Minot with the puck scheduled to drop at 7:35 p.m. — and fans should tune in for Wings captain Kyle Gaffney’s 100th game wearing the Wings sweater. Fans can catch the action using their HockeyTV login or watch the game 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.