The Aberdeen Wings kept their unblemished road record squeaky clean after defeating the Minnesota Wilderness 6-2 Saturday night inside Northwoods Credit Union Arena, sweeping the weekend in the process.
Aberdeen, who improve to 37-2-0-1 on the year, remain perfect on the road with a 17-0 record, and also increase their streak of winning when scoring first, jumping up to a perfect 34 out of 34 games.
Natan Vertes got the scoring started early again for the Wings, catching a bounce off a long shot at the 4:26 mark in the first period. Assisting on the play was Cade Neilson and Trevor Russell, who recorded his 26th assist on the year.
Three-and-a-half minutes later, the Wings gave up their first shorthanded goal of the season when Minnesota’s Will Traeger snuck one behind Jake Sibell. But Aberdeen responded at the 12:31 mark when Payton Matsui took a low feed from Jakob Stender to sneak one in glove-side, giving the Wings the lead for the second time in the period. Jordan Randall also assisted on the goal, notching his 13th apple on the year. The Wilderness outshot the Wings 12-9, but the Wings headed into the first break with the 2-1 cushion.
After late penalties from both sides of the bench, the second period started with four-on-four hockey. Less than two minutes into the period, Vertes used his speed to grab his second goal of the night, sneaking one by Wilderness goalie Kaleb Johnson; he was assisted by Christian Abrams.
Leading 3-1, the Wings entered into a power play for three minutes. They used the extra man to their advantage when Matsui deflected a shot for his second of the night, and fourth on the weekend. Nico deVita grabbed his 25th assist on the goal, and Clay Cosentino notched his league-leading 37th apple.
With just over six minutes left in the period, Vertes deflected a shot of his own to grab his third goal of the game. Thomas Manty snagged his 19th assist on the hat trick, as well as Neilson, who picked up his 27th. The Wings caught up in shots on goal, outshooting the Wilderness 10-7 and faced the final intermission leading 5-1.
“Our guys were ready to play from the drop of the puck tonight,” Wings head coach Scott Langer said. “We gained even more momentum in the second period with the power play goal and a four-on-four goal.”
Aberdeen put one more on the board late in the third period when Owen DuBois settled a pass and made a nifty move on Johnson, finding the back of the net for his first goal as an Aberdeen Wing. He was assisted by Will Arquiett and Jake Goldowski.
Shortly after, Sibell left the goalie crease to defend a teammate who had a Wilderness skater on him. While the officials’ focus was on the other end of the ice, a change in goal was necessary and Dominik Wasik was happy to step in for his team. But the Wilderness took advantage of the fresh legs and the 5-on-3 Wings penalty kill, and Grant Docter took one back for Minnesota. When the final horn sounded just over a minute later, the Wings skated away with the 6-2 victory.
Sibell got his 31st win on the season, turning away 21 of 22 shots and improving to a league-leading 1.15 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. Wasik went 0-1 on shots on goal. Wilderness goalie Johnson stopped 24 of 30.
Vertes recorded his second hat trick on the season; the first came back on November 20 in Minot. Overall, he now has 19 goals on the season, coupled with 14 assists for a total of 33 points. Langer was happy with his veteran forward’s ability to find the puck.
“When Natan uses his skill and speed, he is a high-end player,” he said. “Tonight, he dominated his shifts.”
The Wilderness drop to 15-18-1-2 on the season, but will have their rematch immediately when they travel to the Odde Ice Center April 2 and 3. Tickets can be purchased ahead of the game online at tickets.AberdeenWings.com. Fans can also purchase $10 general admission tickets ahead of the game at any of the four C-Express locations in Aberdeen, with additional purchase. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the puck drops at 7:15 p.m. Friday night’s game is Cougar Hockey night, and Saturday’s game is the annual Yelduz Shrine Teddy Bear Toss.
“We are going to have a very short memory of some of the liberties taken on us,” Langer said ahead of next weekend’s series. “We will prepare and be ready to go in our building.”