It’s not every day that a team can get 45 wins out of 50 games played.
But the Aberdeen Wings claimed that accomplishment on Saturday in front of a packed crowd at the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, shutting out the Bismarck Bobcats 2-0, snagging two more league points and officially clinching the regular season championship.
It was the third game in three days for Aberdeen — and they skated to victory in each matchup, earning the well-deserved President’s Cup honor after a six-point weekend.
The icing on the cake focused around the Wings’ spectacular goaltender, Jake Sibell, who recorded his eleventh shutout this season, officially tying the North American Hockey League’s record for most shutouts in a season. And with six games left in the regular season, there’s room for Sibell to claim the top honor.
It was a quiet first period. Aberdeen killed off one penalty and outshot Bismarck 9-5, and headed into the first intermission tied 0-0.
But things picked up at the 7:44 mark in the second when captain Clay Cosentino took a shot from the high slot to put the Wings on the board. He grabbed his tenth goal of the season, while Liam Fraser and Natan Vertes each notched their 17th assist. Then, at the 12:56 mark, Payton Matsui grabbed a pass from Jordan Randall in front of the Bismarck net and buried it for the 2-0 lead. The Wings once again outshot the Bobcats, taking 14 shots compared to eight, and headed into the final break with the two-point cushion.
The Wings just needed to play defense in the third to maintain the lead, which they effectively did, killing off another penalty en route to the victory. Overall, the Wings outshot Bismarck 33-22 and killed off three Bismarck penalties, while going 0-1 on the power play.
Wings head coach and general manager Scott Langer knew the three-game weekend would be a test for his team and was pleased with the outcome.
“This team embraced the long week and handled it well,” he said. “This group’s leadership surfaced this week.”
He was specifically impressed with his star goalie’s ability to handle the pressure and continue to move up in the NAHL rankings.
“Jake deserves everything he accomplishes,” he said. “He has worked for this for years, and daily he prepares the right way.”
In addition to tying the league’s overall shutout record, Sibell improves to 38-2-0-1 in 42 games played this season, boasting a 1.19 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage. Langer said the Niagara University commit continues to be a solid piece when it comes to winning.
“He has been our backbone all season and I feel we will be entering the most important part of the season with a great piece of the puzzle in net,” he said.
Bismarck’s goaltender Ian Shane stopped 31 of 33 shots sent his way. Bismarck continues to sit in second place in the Central Division, holding onto a 26-19-2-3 record. The Wings are now 45-4-0-1 and lead the NAHL with 91 points.
In a “typical” year, the regular season championship is based off total points, with each team playing the same amount of games. But with teams ending the regular season with different amounts of games played, the decision ultimately came down to the Wings’ .910 win percentage.
“It’s been a goal of ours to win the NAHL regular season champions banner,” Langer said about the honor. “It’s extremely difficult to come out on top in a season this long against teams that are really good.”
So far, Aberdeen is the only team in the Central Division to clinch a playoff spot, and just one point currently separating the bottom three teams — the Minnesota Wilderness, the St. Cloud Norsemen and the Austin Bruins.
The Wings will try to take more points from one of them this weekend when they travel to take on the Norsemen Friday and Saturday, April 30 and May 1, but note that the games will be played inside the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria, MN. Puck drops at 7:10 p.m. on Friday and 8:10 p.m. on Saturday. Fans can watch the games using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen. Fans can also listen to the game’s audio on Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.
The Wings will be away at the Minnesota Wilderness the following weekend before returning home to finish the regular season inside the Odde on May 14 and 15, hosting the Minot Minotauros.