The Aberdeen Wings found themselves back in the win column Friday night as they skated to a big win over the Bismarck Bobcats at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck.
It was the first time the rival teams met in the early season, and memories were fairly short as it was a physical game until the final buzzer. But a powerful offense, solid defense and a strong showing from netminder Dominik Wasik led the Wings to the 4-1 win.
For the third time in as many games, Aberdeen struck first when Cade Neilson was at the receiving end of a quick tic-tac-toe passing route, sneaking it past Bismarck goaltender Aksel Reid less than three minutes into regulation. It felt especially quick as it came on the Wings’ fourth shot of the game came and before Bismarck took any shots of their own. Hugo Gustafsson and Patrick O’Connell each picked up their second assists on the season.
Later in the period, at the 14:44 mark, Neilson took a quick wrist shot coming around the circle for his second goal of the game, giving his team the 2-0 cushion. It was Neilson’s sixth goal on the season, while Kyle Gaffney and Seamus Campbell each notched their fourth assists.
The Bobcats got one back with just 13 seconds left in the period when a 2-on-1 attack led to Quinn Rudrud’s first goal of the season. However, after extended offensive pressure and the Wings outshooting Bismarck 14-10, Aberdeen headed into the first break leading 2-1.
The Wings went on back-to-back power plays early in the middle period but a strong Bismarck kill unit kept Aberdeen from finding the back of the net. But after more extended zone pressure, the Wings found the back of the net at the 11:16 mark off a monster slap shot from Nate Mann. It was his third goal of the season, while Owen DuBois notched his fifth apple and Gustafsson got his second assist of the game and third on the year.
The Bobcats killed off a third penalty shortly after the goal, but the Wings continued to pepper Reid with shots, eventually finding success with over three minutes left in the period. DuBois left a pass off for Mann, who slid it back for DuBois to take a hard shot to bury it in the net and give the Wings the 4-1 lead. It was his first goal on the season, while Mann and Campbell each grabbed their fifth assists.
Once again, the Wings outshot the Bobcats, taking another 14 shots while holding Bismarck to eight. Wasik made some big saves, including one-on-one attack, to keep his team leading by three heading into the game’s final 20 minutes.
Knowing that defense would be the key, Aberdeen dug in deep to keep Bismarck off the board in the third. The game’s physicality heated up, with each team trading penalties more than once and Bismarck getting two more power play opportunities, one that spanned the last 1:54 of the game. But the Wings forced several key turnovers and Wasik made some big saves in the game’s closing minutes, securing the 4-1 victory when the final horn sounded.
“We started on time tonight, something we’ve been working on,” head coach Steve Jennings said after the win. “The guys applied what we worked on in practice this week, which was good to see as well.”
After outshooting the Bobcats again in the third, Aberdeen ultimately took 40 total shots, holding Bismarck to 27. Both teams went 0-4 on the power play, but Aberdeen’s extended time in the zone and ability to control the puck just might have been what set them apart.
“Starting with the puck is critical in dictating the flow of the game,” Jennings said. “Our centers did a great job on the dot tonight. The team did a great job getting the puck back when we lost it as well, and I felt we really didn’t allow them to gain too much momentum because of that.”
Wasik put up a strong showing in net for the Wings, denying 26 of 27 shots sent his way. Reid went 36-40 in the loss.
Aberdeen (5-4-0-0) and Bismarck (1-8-0-0) face off again tomorrow night on the Bobcat’s home ice; puck drops at 7:15 p.m. The Wings have the following weekend off before returning home to finish out October with four home games.
“Tomorrow is a new day, so we have to get ready to play the right way all over again,” Jennings said. “I expect they will come out and push back tomorrow, and we have to be ready to answer their effort.”
Wings fans can watch Saturday’s matchup using their HockeyTV login, or at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home of Wings away games.