The Aberdeen Wings and the Bismarck Bobcats split the weekend after a 7-4 loss Saturday night inside the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck.
The Wings clinched a playoff berth after a 3-2 win on Friday, and the Bobcats knew they needed to grab a win to stay in playoff contention themselves. They came out firing with a strong, three-goal opening period. Jon Ziskie got his team on the board at the 1:59 mark, and Ryan Taylor doubled their lead shortly after at the 4:17 mark. Patrick Johnson made it a 3-0 game at the 15:21 mark. Bismarck outshot the Wings 13-9, each team killed off a penalty, and the Bobcats had the three-goal lead after the opening 20 minutes.
Aberdeen got on the board early in the middle stanza when Kevin MacKay took a shot from the blue line and Mason Kelly was there to grab the loose puck and put it in the back of the net at the 1:57 mark. Kelly grabbed his second goal on the weekend and second overall on the year, while MacKay grabbed his 14th assist and Bauer Barry notched his fourth.
Bismarck responded with two more goals of their own, the first from Taylor at the 8:01 mark and another from Jake McLean at the 14:13 mark. But Aberdeen responded with two more goals of their own following coincidental penalties and a game misconduct on the Bobcats. The first came while still even-strength at the 19:17 mark when Kyle Gaffney skated in through the circles and fed the puck to Cade Neilson, who skated around and fired from the middle of the circle and into the back of the net. Neilson grabbed his 24th goal on the year, while Gaffney got his 30th assist and Jackson Yee grabbed his eighth.
Forty-two seconds later and on the power play, Gaffney grabbed the puck following a face-off in the Bismarck zone and fired it towards the net, and Anthony Galante was there to pick up the loose puck and get it into the back of the net just before the horn sounded to end the period. Galante got his eighth goal on the year, while Yee got his second apple of the game, ninth overall. It was also Gaffney’s second assist on the night, 31st overall on the year.
Aberdeen edged out Bismarck in shots on goal, taking eleven while holding the Bobcats to ten. The Wings killed off a penalty of their own and Bismarck had the 5-3 lead heading into the final period.
Quinn Rudrud got his team back to a three-point lead at the 3:37 mark in the third, but Dominic Schimizzi responded less than a minute later when he skated into the Bobcat zone and fired a deep shot from beyond the circles and past Bismarck netminder Oskar Spinnars Nordin. He grabbed his fourth goal wearing the Wings sweater, 13th overall on the year, while Owen DuBois picked up his 16th assist and Luke Amell got his third.
The Wings applied the pressure in the third, once again edging out the Bobcats in shots on goal, this time 10-9, but an empty net goal from Owen Michaels at the 18:43 mark sealed the Wings fate, leading to the 7-4 defeat.
Despite allowing three goals in the opening period, Wings head coach Steve Jennings said the initial start was good — what followed wasn’t something he wanted to see.
“Actually, the start is what I wanted. Our reaction to the first goal was not good and they changed momentum,” he said. “Going into the locker room, we talked about changes we needed to make. We changed goalies and juggled lines to try to get things going. We had some good effects from that but when we are playing from behind, we also have to try to generate results, which means taking some risks.”
Anton Castro stopped 10-13 in the opening period, and Greg Orosz denied 15-18 in the final two periods. Overall, both teams went 1-2 on the power play, although Bismarck’s power play goal was also on an empty net.
For Jennings, he said his squad never gave up, even after being down so early and falling short on the comeback. And as the team heads into the final four games of the regular season, that tenacity and grit could play an important role.
“We simply have to take that into our next games,” he said. “There was good in that, but we need everyone to maximize that.”
While Kelly had a two-goal weekend, Gaffney grabbed three assists and Yee had a goal and two assists. Neilson had a goal and an assist to his name. And in Saturday’s matchup, all four Wings captains notched at least a point.
“Leaders need to lead,” Jennings said. “In games like this, I expect they will step up, and they did.”
The Wings hit the road again next weekend to take on the Austin Bruins before wrapping the season at home against the Bruins. Fans can watch the away games using their HockeyTV login, or catch the action live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. The game’s audio is broadcast via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock. Stay tuned to AberdeenWings.com for updates on gameday information.