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Bobcats fighting through tough schedule

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Hockey is a game of momentum, both inside a game and on a larger, game-by-game basis.

The Bismarck Bobcats have proven that through the first 16 games of their season.

A tough start at the NAHL showcase gave way to a good start to the beginning of their division schedule, before a week off stunted some of their momentum and flipped the Bobcats from winning five of six to a 1-4-1 stretch.

"We had good momentum going into our break, then when we came back we were finding ways to lose games instead of win them," Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie said. "We lost some of the momentum we had, but it was nice to go down (to St. Cloud) and find a way to win (last Saturday)."

Bismarck salvaged the second road game of a four-match home-and-home set with St. Cloud with a 3-1 win on Saturday.

"We've been decent on the road, so to not go down there and come back empty-handed will hopefully give us traction to keep it going this weekend," Sedevie said.

The win over St. Cloud was led by Bismarck's power play. The Bobcats scored the first two goals of the game on the man advantage, with Evan Hunter (a goal and an assist) and Patrick Johnson (a goal and an assist) putting the Norsemen into a two-goal hole in the span of 1:26.

On the defensive side of the ice, the Bobcats were keyed by newly-acquired goaltender Hunter Garvey, who Bobcat fans will remember as a nemesis of Bismarck last season when he operated as the starting netminder for North Iowa.

"He was really good, he made timely saves," Sedevie said of Garvey, who the Bobcats traded for from El Paso. "He beat us single-handedly a few times last year, and because we don't have Oskar (Spinnars Nordin), we went after an older guy (in the trade market) to give us both an older goalie and a younger one with Linards.

"Last year, we got a lot better when we brought Oskar in, and it's critical to have stability between the pipes. Hunter's in his last year in the NAHL, and he's a proven starter."

Bismarck's special teams have been a tale of two polar opposites. Last year's ice-cold start on the man advantage meant, despite a hot finish to the season, the Bobcats were a bottom-10 team.

This year Bismarck's power play has started much better, and with their two goals against St. Cloud, the Bobcats are currently ninth in the league with a conversion rate of 22.4 percent (15 goals on 67 opportunities).

It's been the complete opposite on the penalty kill. Last year's Bobcats squad finished in the top half with a penalty kill around 82 percent. This year's squad is currently third-worst with a 69 percent kill rate (14 goals on 45 opportunities).

"We moved up eight points to nearly 70 percent," Sedevie said of his penalty kill, which went 6-for-7 in the two-game road series against the Norsemen. "We want it at 84 or 85. Our problems early on have been not getting pucks out of our zone, we've had some issues with our coverages.

"We're working to instill in our game that we need to play full-effort every night, every shift, and find a way to get momentum off of a kill, particularly at home. We have to stay disciplined and not take bad penalties 200 feet away from our net."

Bismarck has dealt with injuries and suspensions at times this season, but they are slowly working towards full strength.

They get a little closer this weekend, when they welcome Brandon Reller back from injured reserve.

"When we've been at our best, it's because we've had depth at forward," Sedevie said. "Brandon coming back gives us depth up front where we can roll four lines and really work on wearing teams down."

Reller's return should help a sputtering Bobcats offense. When Bismarck went 5-1-0 in the first six games after the Showcase, the Bobcats were scoring, on average, more than four goals a game.

In their 1-4-1 stretch since that hot start, Bismarck's offense has fallen to tallying just over two goals a game.

"When we were in that lull, we were struggling to score," Sedevie said. "It's nice to win a game 2-1 or 3-1, but we were putting up five a night before that, so hopefully we can get back to that while keeping our goals against low."

After finishing their four-gamer with the Norsemen this weekend, the Bobcats will see just about everybody else in the division this month.

They'll start with a two-gamer on the road against North Iowa, their first action against the Bulls this season. They follow that with a three-game week in which they play a home-and-home with Minot and cap the weekend with a single game against Aberdeen.

"We'll have a good feel after this month where we stack up and it'll be nice to see a new team," Sedevie said. "We haven't played North Iowa in a while, so it'll be nice to play them."

Of course, weather might well impact when they end up playing this weekend.

But for the moment, Friday night's game against the Norsemen is on as scheduled.

"We're hoping things are cleared off and we're good to go on Friday," Sedevie said. "It's a tough part of junior hockey, being on the road and facing these kinds of conditions, because you want people to be safe.

"Weather like this is part of living in this region, and it's expected that you have to deal with weather like this when you coach for this long."

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