After a tough Friday night loss inside the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, Wings head coach Steve Jennings said that it was important to get back in the win column before starting playoffs.
And after exactly 62 minutes of the hockey in their 2021-22 regular season finale, the Wings skated to an exciting 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Austin Bruins.
Both teams had a slow start, with Aberdeen taking nine shots in the opening period while allowing the Bruins just four. But Austin regrouped in the second period and Walter Zacher got his team on the board with a power play goal at the 8:04 mark.
However, the Wings responded at the 9:50 mark when Landry Schmuck sent a long pass from deep in the Wings’ zone to Dominic Schimizzi, who grabbed the puck at the Austin blue line and fired from the middle of the circle to tie the game at one apiece. Schimizzi grabbed his 14th goal on the year, while Schmuck grabbed his eleventh assist and Devon Carlstrom notched his twelfth. Overall, the Bruins outshot the Wings 18-10 in the middle stanza but each team grabbed a goal and headed into the game’s final break tied at one.
Liam Whitehouse gave his team the lead once again at the 9:16 mark in the third, scoring his first NAHL goal in the process. But the Wings responded once again just 44 seconds later when Bauer Barry took a shot from the blue line and Anthony Galante came through the crease to tip it past Bruins goaltender Ethan Robertson to tie the game again. Galante grabbed his ninth goal on the season, while Barry picked up his fifth assist.
Aberdeen grabbed their first lead of the game at the 14:33 mark in the third when Carlstrom got the puck at the blue line and found some open space, skating in and firing from between the circles. He picked up his fourth goal on the season, while Neilson racked up his 49th assist on the season and Luke Amell got his fourth.
With the assist, Neilson also grabbed the Wings’ single season assist record, overtaking last season’s captain Clayton Cosentino, who had 48 during the 2020-21 season.
Trailing by one in the the final minute and on the power play, Austin pulled Robertson from between the pipes for another extra attacker and Alex Trombley tied the game at three apiece at the 19:10 mark. When the final horn sounded, the Wings took twelve shots in the final period while holding Austin to six, and the teams headed to overtime.
Forty-two seconds into the extra time, Aberdeen went on the four-on-three attack following a Bismarck penalty. And just over a minute later, at exactly the two-minute mark, Neilson took a feed from Carlstrom and fired from the top of the circle for the game-winner, giving his team their 31st win of the season. Neilson grabbed his 26th goal on the year, while Carlstrom picked up his second assist of the game, 13th overall, and Kyle Gaffney got his 33rd.
Overall, Wings goaltender Anton Castro denied 25 of the 28 shots he faced while Robertson went 31-35. The Wings went 1-6 on the power play while Austin went 3-7.
“With key guys out of the lineup, our kill was different,” Jennings said after the game. “And it’s hard, that’s an important part of our game and has been key for us.”
He was also happy to see his team scrap together a win to finish the regular season on a high note.
“Getting out of that and killing that streak is important,” he said, ending a four-game losing stretch. “Getting the positive momentum going into Austin next weekend is really important. The lineup really depleted tonight; we had five major players out of the lineup, so finding a way to win was really critical.”
The Wings and the Bruins will meet again next weekend in the first round of the 2022 Robertson Cup playoffs. The first game will also mark the teams’ fifth consecutive matchup against each other. Even though the Bruins carry an 8-3-1 record over the Wings, Aberdeen has scored 28 goals against the Bruins so far this season while allowing 31; and five of the games have been decided by a one-goal margin.
But the important part isn’t what happened, but rather what’s to come.
“Now, the prior 60 does’t really matter. We all start at zero,” Jennings said. “For us, it’s really just getting going and trying to build off what we’ve done for 60 games, but bring it in and know that good, bad or indifferent we all have to move forward. That’s the important part.”
Looking back on his first season as head coach of the Wings, Jennings said he’s proud of the work his team has put in and is happy to see them refine their skills while looking for the next step in their careers.
“When you look at what’s gone on with this team, they’ve really taken steps in the right direction, and that’s really great. I think that’s the part I look at — our players have developed,” he said. “So many of our guys have taken key steps, and that’s what we’re all here for. Development and improving our guys and making them able to move on, and that’s huge. For us, that’s really big part of it.”