Wings split in Minot

Saturday’s North American Hockey League (NAHL) game between the Aberdeen Wings and the Minot Minotauros was eerily similar to Thursday’s matchup — only in a completely opposite way.

Opposite to Thursday’s matchup, it was the Wings that got out early. And, opposite again, it was the Minotauros who found their footing for a come-from-behind victory, stealing Aberdeen’s weekend sweep with a 4-3 victory at the Pepsi Rink inside Maysa Arena.

Ronan Walsh got the Wings on the board very quickly at the start of the afternoon matchup — just 46 seconds into the game — taking a pass from Kyle Gaffney and skating into the circle for a blast that went in the upper lefthand corner. That was his second goal as a Wing, while Gaffney picked up his eighth assist and Landry Schmuck notched his second.

The two teams traded penalties before the Wings found themselves on the penalty kill again just over halfway into the period. But Owen DuBois’ solid defense allowed him to poke the puck out, speed past the Minot defenders and go head-to-head with Minotauro netminder Zach Sandy; Sandy made the initial save, but DuBois grabbed his own rebound to put the Wings up by two at the 11:15 mark. The unassisted, shorthanded goal was his second on the year.

The Wings, who would suffer from penalty trouble from the start, denied three penalties in the first period alone. They outshot Minot 11-9 and headed into the first break leading 2-0.

Starting the middle period, Aberdeen saw some good looks early in the period, but it was Minot who capitalized first when Colby Joseph got a shorthanded goal of his own at the 4:17 mark. Still on the power play, Walsh scored for the Wings again less than a minute later and with just three seconds left on the power play, taking a tight-angled shot that put the Wings back up again by two. It was Walsh’s second goal of the game and third on the weekend, while Cade Neilson grabbed his twelfth assist and Gaffney notched his ninth.

The Wings went on the penalty kill another three times in the middle stanza and the Minotauros took advantage of their time in the box. After two back-to-back penalties around the 16-minute mark, the Wings faced five-on-three hockey — and after 30 seconds of defending their net, Zach Simon put one past Wings goaltender Greg Orosz to put his team back within one. Another Wings penalty meant another five-on-three attack from Minot, but only for nine seconds, and Aberdeen was able to turn them away to keep the one-goal lead heading into the final break.

Minot tied the game early in the third when Connor McGrath scored just under two minutes into the period. With the game tied, Minot kept the pressure coming and it eventually paid off when Braydon Beahm scored at the 16:21 mark, giving Minot their first lead of the game. Aberdeen tried to stage a comeback of their own, pulling Orosz from the net with just over a minute left on the clock, but the Minotauros packed in the defense and kept the lead when the final horn sounded.

Overall, Aberdeen took 27 shots compared to a 41-shot onslaught from Minot, which included 19 shots alone in the second period. While Aberdeen went 1-3 on the power play, they did manage to hold Minot to 1-7. Sandy denied 24 of the 27 shots he faced, while Orosz stopped 37 of 41.

“The penalties hurt us tonight for sure,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said after the game. “Playing that many minutes short allowed them to build momentum. The power play going one for three was good, but giving up that shorthanded goal also gave them life.”

Despite the split, several Wings had big weekends in the points department. Neilson led with four points over the weekend, scoring a goal and adding three assists. Walsh netted three goals on the weekend, and Wings captain Kyle Gaffney added three assists, while DuBois also added a goal and an assist. For Jennings, he’s now hoping that the players new to junior hockey will step into their roles on the ice as well.

“I think they’re showing guys what it takes to succeed,” he said of his veteran leadership. “We need our younger guys to move more into taking over some of this responsibility as well.”

Coming up, the Wings face two back-to-back home-and-home weekends against the Bismarck Bobcats. This weekend, the Wings hit the road for Bismarck on Friday, Nov. 12 before returning to the Odde Ice Center to host the Bobcats on Saturday, Nov. 13. The following weekend is flip-flopped: the Wings host Bismarck on Friday, Nov. 19 and then travel to the VFW Sports Center on Saturday, Nov. 20. They’ll finish the month against the Minotauros once again, but this time with home-ice advantage.

Fans can purchase tickets ahead of games online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com or at the door on game nights. $10 general admission tickets can also be purchase at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase.

Fans can also watch all road games using their HockeyTV login or live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. Home and away games are broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock.