The tight Central Division just got a little tighter.
The Aberdeen Wings took down the division’s top-ranked Bruins for the second night in a row, sweeping Austin on their home ice in superb shutout fashion with a 5-0 win Saturday inside Riverside Arena.
After Friday’s 3-0 shutout, the Wings outscored the Bruins 8-0 on the weekend, knocking Austin out of the top spot and closing the gap in perhaps the tightest division in the North American Hockey League.
Head coach Steve Jennings wanted a quick start — and that’s exactly what he got. Kyle Gaffney grabbed the puck between the circles and fed to Landry Schmuck, who fired a backdoor shot past Bruins netminder Nikola Goich just under a minute-and-a-half into the game. It was Schmuck’s sixth goal on the year, while Gaffney notched his twelfth assist and Anthony Galanate picked up his second.
Less than two minutes later, Aberdeen got on the board again when Will Gilson stole the puck near the center line and skated all the way into the Austin zone, firing a tight-angled shot over the shoulder of Goich for the 2-0 lead at the 3:13 mark in the first. The unassisted goal was Gilson’s fourth on the season.
After two quick goals, Goich was replaced by Hudson Hodges between the pipes for the Bruins — but the Wings weren’t done scoring yet. Later in the period, the teams played a short bout of four-on-four hockey before Aberdeen went on the penalty kill, but just 13 seconds into the kill, Neilson broke through the defense to go solo against Hodges, burying a backhand shot in the upper righthand corner at the 12:51 mark to give the Wings the 3-0 lead. The shorthanded goal was his 13th of the year, and he extended his scoring streak to twelve games, tallying 25 total points in that span, including six goals in the last five consecutive games. Gaffney grabbed his second assist of the game and 13th overall.
Each team went 0-2 on the power play in the opening period, and the Bruins edged out the Wings on goal 12-11, but Aberdeen skated into the first break with the three-goal cushion.
Austin came out strong in the middle period, finding extended zone presence and taking multiple shots — in fact, the Wings didn’t get their first shot of the period off until nearly four minutes in. But the Wings defense was equally as strong as several shots were blocked, preventing Wings goaltender Greg Orosz from seeing many in his crease. The Bruins killed off another Wings power play, but Jackson Yee got the puck behind Austin’s net just twelve seconds later and fed the puck to Seamus Campbell, who fired near the top of the crease over Hodges’ stick at the 8:49 mark. It was Campbell’s fifth goal on the year, and Yee grabbed his third assist, while Owen DuBois racked up his tenth.
The teams traded coincidental roughing penalties shortly after the goal and Aberdeen found their footing again, taking more chances and eventually outshooting the Bruins 14-8 in the middle period. Each team killed off two more penalties, and the Wings headed into the final break leading 4-0.
After two late penalties in the second, the third period started off four-on-four before the Wings had a very brief power play, which the Bruins killed. Aberdeen played good defense as the Bruins found some energy, and Orosz made several big saves to keep them off the score board.
After killing off another penalty apiece, the Wings found themselves on the power play for the sixth time. The Wings passed the puck around until Gilson took a one-timer from the top of the circle and Gaffney was there to pick up the rebound and slap it into the back of the net at the 16:06 mark. The Wings’ captain notched his second power play goal of the weekend and fourth overall on the year, while Kevin MacKay picked up his sixth apple and Gilson got his seventh.
The Bruins fired off nine shots in the third period while holding the Wings to six, but the Wings outshot Austin 31-29 overall and skated to the 5-0 win, effectively sweeping the weekend and securing four coveted league points.
“The start tonight was what we needed,” Jennings said after the game. “Getting after them early helped set a great tempo for the game, and scoring first and early gets us to the right frame of mind.”
Another thing Jennings has often talked about over the first third of the season is finishing a game when his team has the lead, something he was happy to see in both shutouts this weekend.
“We’re really starting to see things clicking for them,” he said. “I liked that both nights, we were able to focus late and prevent them from gaining momentum.”
Gaffney lead the weekend scoring with four points, which included two goals and two assists. Neilson added three points after two goals and an assist — and extends his league-high overall point total to 38 — and Campbell also added two goals and an assist for three points as well.
After the Wings swept the Bruins and the St. Cloud Norsemen swept the North Iowa Bulls, three teams are in a three-way tie for most points in the Central Division — the Bruins, the Bulls and the Minot Minotauros, who defeated the Bismarck Bobcats Saturday night, each have 29 league points. And it’s the Minotauros who the Wings will face this coming weekend when they have home-ice advantage inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen. The Wings sit just two points behind the leaders with 27 points in 24 games played.
“The focus has to stay with us and continue to get better,” Jennings said. “We saw the boys execute on things we’ve been working on this weekend, so we want to continue to build on that momentum. Another good week of practice and then we have to follow up with strong games.”
The upcoming weekend of hockey kicks off at 7:15 p.m. Friday night inside the Odde. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. against the Minotauros both Friday and Saturday night. Keep an eye out for our specialty jerseys worn by the Wings, which will be auctioned off immediately following Saturday’s game to benefit the DTOM Veterans Ranch.
Fans can purchase tickets ahead of the games online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com. $10 general admission tickets can also be purchased at any C-Express location in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. Stay tuned to AberdeenWings.com for details regarding our Christmas Food Drive and other weekend game information.