The reigning NAHL national champions have earned the right to defend their crown.
The Aberdeen Wings defeated the Bismarck Bobcats 3-1 on Friday, sweeping the Central Division Finals round 3-0 and punching their ticket back to the Robertson Cup National Championship, starting next week in Blaine, MN.
The last time the Wings played for the cup was back in 2018-19 — and they left as national champions. With last season cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Wings will try to repeat as champions this year.
The Wings headed into Friday’s matchup with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. But it was the Bobcats who managed to get on the board first with a goal from Braden Costello late in the first period. Aberdeen edged out Bismarck in shots on goal, 9-8, but headed into the first break down 1-0.
But they answered back in the second period.
At the 13:23 mark in the middle period, Kevin MacKay took a shot from the blue line and Will Arquiett was there to pick up the rebound to tie the game at 1-1. That was Arquiett’s third postseason goal, while MacKay grabbed his first postseason assist and Trevor Russell notched his fourth. Then, just shy of two minutes later, Aberdeen took the lead when Jordan Randall redirected a shot at the 15:18 mark. It was MacKay’s second assist of the night, while Nathan Mann grabbed his third postseason apple.
Aberdeen had high energy and shifted momentum in their favor in the second, outshooting the Bobcats 9-4, and headed into the final break leading 2-1.
The Wings were looking for a bit of a cushion in the final period — and they got just that when Jacob Goldowski got a perfect pass from Michael Reed in front of the net and put it away to give the Wings the 3-1 lead. It was Goldowski’s third postseason goal and Reed’s first postseason assist, as well as Arquiett’s third postseason assist.
The Bobcats pulled goalie Ian Shane with just over two minutes left in the period, giving themselves the man-advantage, but the Wings’ solid defense prevailed, and they hoisted the Central Division Cup after 60 minutes of hard-fought hockey.
Shane stopped 21 of 24 shots fired his way, while Jake Sibell — recently named the NAHL’s Goaltender of the Year and Most Valuable Player — denied 19 of 20. He’ll head into the Robertson Cup with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
“Winning the playoff championships is one of the hardest things to do in the Central Division,” Wings head coach and general manager Scott Langer said. “Ten months of preparation has put us in this position and a chance at the big prize.”
The fight for that big prize will come starting next weekend when the Wings travel to Blaine to defend their title. Their first game will be on Friday, June 18 at 4:30 p.m. against the winner in the Midwest Division. Game 2 will take place on Saturday, June 19, also at 4:30 p.m. If a third game is needed in the best-of-three semifinal round, that will take place on Sunday, June 20 at 3 p.m.
The final game of the 2020-21 season — the Robertson Cup Championship game — is slated for Tuesday, June 22 at the Fogarty Ice Arena in Blaine.
“This team is ready,” Langer said ahead of the team’s road trip back to the national championship. “They have embraced everything thrown at them. This week will be airing up some details before we arrive in Blaine.”