The Bismarck Bobcats sent 2018 out with a win.
Playing Minot for the third time in four days, Andy Stoneman continued his hot-scoring and John Roberts was stellar again in goal in Bismarck's 2-1 victory over the Minotauros at the VFW Sports Center on Monday night.
The Bobcats pulled even with Minot in the NAHL's Central Division standings with 37 points, despite playing two fewer games. Aberdeen, Bismarck's next opponent, leads with 46 points. Austin is second with 43.
"You look at the standings and you can't overstate the importance of this game," Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie said. "These are the biggest points of our season so far."
The Bobcats pulled even in the season series (5-5) with Minot, the defending Robertson Cup runner-up, in front of a near full house.
"I tell you what, I think it's one of the most special places to play in all of Junior hockey," Sedevie said of the Bobcats' home ice. "It's not a big building, but we have loyal fans. It's loud and I think it's one of the toughest places to play in Junior hockey and that's pretty special."
Scoreless through nearly 38 minutes, the Bobcats jumped in front late in the second period.
Stoneman poked a loose puck past Minot goal Ben Garrity at the 17:39 for the game’s first goal. It was the seventh tally of the season for the Faribault, Minn., native. The goal, assisted by Bartek Bison and Austin Jouppi, withstood a video review.
The goal was Stoneman’s fourth of the three-game series. Stoneman scored twice on Friday in the Bobcats’ 5-4 victory and also netted a goal Saturday in Minot.
Early in the third, Bismarck went up 2-0.
Bartek Bison blasted home his eighth goal of the season past Garrity at the 2:09 mark, giving the Bobcats a 2-0 edge. Jouppi got his second assist on the goal.
Minot cut the lead in half six minutes later. With the Bobcats unable to clear a scrum in front of the net, David Raisanen jammed in the free puck past Roberts to make it 2-1 with 12:01 left in regulation.
That was all Roberts would allow, however, including a late surge from Minot after pulling Garrity.
"I thought our goaltender was pretty dang good," Sedevie said of Roberts. "He made some big-time saves when we really needed him and showed the class goaltender he is."
Roberts was busy in the first period with 10 stops, including five saves during a pair of Minot power plays.
The Bobcats won 5-4 in Bismarck on Friday before Minot claimed Saturday's tilt 4-2 in the Magic City on Saturday. But, Bismarck won the rubber match of the grueling holiday showdown.
"It's an awful weekend to be honest with you to come off break and play the same team three times in four days, but you know what, no excuses," Sedevie said. "Thankfully we got the points tonight and we didn't give them any.
"I don't think we were great all night, but our guys competed and fought hard and that was really good to see."
The Bobcats have a home-and-home series with Central Division-leading Aberdeen this weekend, playing in South Dakota on Friday before hosting the Wings on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Aberdeen’s game on Monday night against Brookings was postponed and will be made up tonight.