The Bismarck Bobcats came out of the tunnel playing fast two-way hockey, peppering the Minnesota Wilderness net with a variety of shots from across the ice. But, the Wilderness arrived at the VFW Sports Center prepared for battle with an opportunistic offense and goaltender Trevor Micucci’s strong start.
Bismarck proved ready and capable of overcoming an early one-goal deficit, but a pair of power-play goals by Minnesota late during the second period paved the way for a 6-3 Wilderness victory.
“I thought we worked hard at times, and I thought our effort was there at times,” Bismarck coach Layne Sedevie said. “But, you win at this time of the year with just effort sometimes. I think that’s the big message here. We had our best stretch, won 5 of 6 there, started making up some big ground, and now we have lost five in a row. Kind of two tales of the tape here, we have to figure it out to get back into contention.”
Extending warm-ups into the first period of game action wasn’t on the Bobcats’ mind on Friday night, as they consistently worked the puck into the Wilderness zone, which provided an early test for Micucci. The Minnesota goaltender finished his pregame preparation on schedule as well, however, as he stonewalled multiple ample Bobcats opportunities and limited second-chance attempts from in close.
Micucci, who finished his night with 22 saves, held Bismarck off the scoreboard until late in the period. By that time, however, forward Charlie Parker had already provided a buzz-killing goal to open up a 1-0 Wilderness lead. Minnesota didn’t hold its first lead of the night for very long, however, as Bobcats captain Zach Kennedy struck back with an equalizer less than two minutes later.
Kennedy’s quick response to an early one-goal deficit provided a boost of momentum to close out the first 20 minutes, but Wilderness forward Zach quickly seized back control of the game. Minutes away from the game’s midway point, Mills took a Michael Zuffante pass the distance, beating goaltender Cam Haugenoe (21 saves) for his 15th marker of the season.
“I honestly thought we played pretty well during the first period,” Sedevie said. “Our penalty kill was really good, and that kind of has been our M.O. these last three games. We have been really good, and then we get inconsistent.”
The Bobcats had plenty of opportunities to get back into the game, but a tough night for their power-play unit combined with Micucci’s solid performance in net proved to be a recipe for disaster. After failing to respond quickly again, Minnesota took full advantage of a pair of boarding calls on Bismarck’s Matt Barry and Jared Resseguie.
Barry was sent to the box with a hair fewer than less than four minutes remaining. Mills promptly scored his second goal of the night shortly after to open up a two-goal lead for the Wilderness.
Fifty-nine seconds after Barry’s minor penalty, Resseguie was hit with the exact same call — and once again, Minnesota made it hurt. Pavel Mikhasenok beat Haugenoe at the 17:35-mark to send his team into the locker room up 4-1 with 20 minutes to play.
“[That hurt] especially because our power play was so stagnant,” Sedevie said. We forced pucks, and we didn’t want to play as a unit. With all our power-play chances I thought we could have been up, but that end of the second cost us.”
The Bobcats surged through the final period of play, however, coming within one score of a tie following late third-period goals by Jordan Fralich and Tobias Fladeby. Bismarck's two-goal rebound ultimately proved too little, too late, as Luke Dow and Tyler Vold notched empty-net tallies to seal a three-goal win.
Bismarck dropped to 18-23-1-1 (38) with its fifth consecutive loss while Minnesota gained ground on Central Division-leading Minot with win No. 24 on the year. The Bobcats, however, have an opportunity to end their losing skid tonight by taking their frustration out on the visiting Brookings Blizzard.
“We got some veteran guys in that room,” Sedevie said. “We need to get our rest and come back. The good news about junior hockey is that you get to play 60 games, so we’re right back at it tomorrow night.
“We have to find a way to get two points tomorrow night.”