Wings’ season ends with 3-2 loss

The Aberdeen Wings played their final game of the 2021-22 season Saturday night inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, taking a 3-2 loss against top-seed St. Cloud in the Central Division finals.

And despite missing several key players — Cade Neilson, Anton Castro, Devon Carlstrom and Dominic Schimizzi — the Wings pushed the Norsemen and fought hard, ultimately coming up a goal short in the contest.

With the win, St. Cloud advances to the Robertson Cup finals in Blaine, MN next weekend.

Aberdeen got on the board first Saturday when Anthony Galante worked his way into the Norsemen zone and fed the puck out to the top of the circle, where Mason Kelly was waiting to fire a shot past Norsemen netminder Tomas Bolo. Kelly grabbed his first postseason goal, while Galante picked up his fourth postseason assist.

St. Cloud responded later in the period when Max Strand scored at the 19:21 mark, and the teams headed into the first break tied at one apiece. And they were still tied after a scoreless second period.

The Wings got the lead again at the 4:15 mark in the third when Hugo Gustafsson grabbed a bouncing puck off the boards and fired from the blue line through traffic and into the back of the net. The Swedish defenseman grabbed his first postseason goal.

But the Norsemen rallied, tying the game at the 12:55 mark on a goal from Evan Murr, and then taking their first lead of the game at the 14:34 mark when Brandon Lajoie got a gritty goal in front of the net. The Wings put on the pressure but couldn’t find the equalizer, and fell a goal short when the game’s final horn sounded.

St. Cloud was a big presence in the Aberdeen zone during the game, taking 52 shots while holding the Wings to 26 in the contest. But Wings goaltender Greg Orosz, seeing his first full game in the playoffs after stepping in for Castro the night before, stood very tall in net, keeping his team within striking distance for the entire game.

“I told him before playoffs that even though we were going to be riding Anton, I had no issues if we had to play him stepping in and getting it done. And he showed tonight that he could do that,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “I thought he was really good. Especially in the first period; they came out pushing hard, getting shots from the middle of the ice and getting secondary shots. He handled all of them. He showed what he is capable of doing. I was really proud of him.”

Another big weapon in the Wings arsenal was once again an important factor during Saturday’s game — in fact, the special teams unit outperformed St. Cloud over the course of the series. The Wings went 0-1 on the power play Saturday while also holding the Norsemen to 0-3, and over the course of the four-game series held St. Cloud to 0-10 while going 1-9.

“Our penalty kill handled their power play really well,” Jennings said. “We went through the whole series and didn’t give up a power play goal, which is so good. We knew what they wanted to do and I think our guys did a great job of watching and executing. When they got the shots off, they weren’t from quality areas.

“On the kill especially, I thought the guys did a good job,” he continued. “And the only one who scored a power play goal in the series was us, so I was pretty happy with that.”

Heading into Saturday’s game knowing they’d be missing several key players, Jennings was also happy with his team’s commitment to step up and fill the areas that needed to be filled.

“I think the guys did a great job. They answered the bell and stepped up,” he said. “We had some very key players missing that, honestly, one or two of them in the lineup probably makes a difference. But the reality is we have to play the cards we’re dealt. We had to battle through and I thought our group really stayed in the fight well and pushed through and I was really proud of them.”