The Bismarck Bobcats have got to be feeling pretty good about themselves after last week.
One-third of the way into the season, the perennial Central Division power was limping along with a 9-10-1 record. The last time the Bobcats were under .500 that deep into a campaign was 2007-08 — which not coincidentally was the last time Bismarck missed the playoffs.
Then came last week.
It’s hard to make a case for any games in November being critical in the NAHL’s never-ending season. But if the Bobcats wanted to break the cycle of mediocrity they had been stuck in this season, playing four games in four nights offered them the perfect opportunity to do so. They seized it.
The Bobcats went 3-0-1 — the only stumble a shootout loss to Minot — capturing seven of a possible eight points. In the process, they shot up into a tie for second place in the Central Division, catching the slumping Brookings Blizzard.
The Bobcats had been overly reliant on their top line of Adam Knochenmus, Shane Omdahl and Patrick Moore, who carried the team through the first third of the season. In their first 20 games, the Bobcats had scored 50 goals in overtime or regulation, and 22 of them came from that trio.
Last week that changed. Of the 13 goals Bismarck scored, two came from Moore and one from Knochenmus. But suddenly they had plenty of support.
Aside from Joe Giordano, the Bobcats hadn’t been getting much production from any of this season’s additions. But Matt Anders has chipped in three goals and two assists in his last four games. Levi Blom and Johno May had three points each. Terry Hennen, who played one game with Bismarck last season, scored a pair of goals.
Aside from the points, some of those first-year players were among Bismarck’s best.
Over the last five games, May is a plus-7, Anders a plus-6, Blom a plus-5.
Of course it didn’t hurt that Aaron Nelson was playing out of his mind in goal. The former Century standout stopped 95 of 98 shots on the week and was named the Central Division’s star of the week.
Nelson played his way into the lineup in his first season with the Bobcats and acquitted himself well. But this year he has risen to another level.
Since rejoining the Bobcats after a brief stint with the USHL’s Fargo Force, Nelson has posted an 8-2-2 record. His goals against average of 1.79 is second in the league and his save percentage of .935 is fourth.
Austin has clearly established itself as the team to beat in the Central. The Bruins have by far the best record (17-4-2) and by far the best goal-differential.
But the Bobcats finally pushed above .500 for the first time last week. With 26 points, Bismarck has drawn even with Brookings, although the Blizzard have two games in hand.
Bismarck trails Austin by 10 points, which is a lot to make up — but there’s also a lot of season left, too. Maybe the Bobcats will be able to chase down the Bruins, maybe they won’t.
But after last week, it at least looks they have a chance.
(Lou Babiarz is the Tribune sports editor.)