The Aberdeen Wings’ power play unit found a way to win against the St. Cloud Norsemen Friday night, but the Norsemen’s penalty kill unit held strong Saturday as the Wings fell 2-1, splitting the weekend in a very tight Central Division.
After a scoreless opening period, St. Cloud got on the board early in the middle stanza when Brandon Lajoie finally got one past Wings goaltender Anton Castro at the 1:29 mark. The Norsemen found themselves in serious penalty trouble in the second period as well, even giving the Wings a 5-on-3 attack late in the period — but their penalty killing unit was steady, killing off each penalty they served and leading 1-0 heading into the game’s final intermission.
The Norsemen struck again early in the third when Gramm McCormack scored just 1:09 into the period. Facing a two-goal deficit, the Wings kept firing at Norsemen netminder Tomas Bolo, finally cracking him at the 15:16 mark in the third. That’s when Cade Neilson passed the puck ahead to Jacob Bosse, who came flying into the circle and fired a shot top shelf to put the Wings on the board. Bosse got his ninth goal on the year, while Neilson grabbed his fifth assist on the weekend, 42nd overall, and Will Gilson got his 20th assist on the season.
With a minute remaining on the clock, the Wings’ coaching staff pulled Castro from between the pipes, and a Norseman penalty at the 19:24 mark gave Aberdeen the 6-on-4 advantage. The Wings gave a strong final push in the game’s 30 seconds but Bolo wouldn’t be beat again, leading his team to the 2-1 win to split the weekend.
“We had our chances and stayed in the fight,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “The goal from Jacob Bosse was great; we needed more of that. They play a very structured game.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game for the Wings was not being able to capitalize on any power play opportunities, going 0-7 on the night after getting three the night before. But Jennings was happy to see his squad get the chances with the man-advantage and will look to convert more of those opportunities down the regular season’s home stretch.
“As we move forward we need to stay with that work factor — it was key to them taking their penalties,” he said. “The next step is generating success on the power play when we earn them.”
The Wings also stayed perfect on the kill, holding St. Cloud to 0-2. Bolo denied 33 of the 34 shots he saw, while Castro turned away 35 of 37.
After Saturday’s games around the division, the standings got tighter than ever before. St. Cloud still leads with 60 league points, while Aberdeen remains in second with 54. The Minot Minotauros are back even with the Wings with 54 points, too, but are in third place with two more games played on the season so far. The Austin Bruins, who were swept by Minot over the weekend and have now lost their last nine games, move down to fourth place with 51 points. The North Iowa Bulls remain at 48 points on the year after being swept by the Bismarck Bobcats, who have won their last seven games and now sit just behind the Bulls with 47 points.
Just 13 points separate first place from sixth place, and the bottom three teams sit just four points apart, making the final games of the regular season extremely important as all six teams eye a playoff position.
And it’s the Bobcats who will travel to the Odde Ice Center this Friday and Saturday, March 11-12, to take on the Wings on home ice. Coach Jennings said the focus will be inward as the team tries to stop a hot Bismarck squad.
“It’ll be similar to how we prepared for this weekend. We’ll work to reinforce our systems, process and approach. Another week of hard preparation and focus,” he said. “There are no nights or weekends off in this division.”
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at the Odde with the puck scheduled to hit the ice at 7:15 p.m. Fans can purchase their tickets online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com or at the door on game nights. $10 general admission tickets can also be purchased at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase.
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