Things weren’t quite as easy for the Bismarck Bobcats this time.
But an early goal by Mitch Walinski and a strong start by backup goaltender Atticus Kelly helped Bismarck complete a weekend sweep of the Brookings Blizzard with a 4-1 win on Saturday night at the VFW Sports Center.
One day after putting nine goals on the board, the Bobcats found the going tougher. But they did what they needed to do to pick up their first four-point weekend on home ice.
“Any time you put up nine, a lot of things are going right. If you think you’re going to do that (again) in this league, you’ve got false hopes,” Bobcats coach and general manager Layne Sedevie said.
“I didn’t think we were great all the way through tonight but we found a way to get two points and we knew they were going to be better. First sweep at home – we’ve swept on the road but not at home, so that’s nice.”
The Bobcats haven’t had a lot of chances to sweep at home yet this season – they’ve played most of the early part of the season on the road.
Still, the Bobcats (13-7-1) are in the thick of a tight four-team race in the NAHL Central Division.
“Our record is, to me, it’s very good for having six returners and a lot of young guys who haven’t played junior hockey and have been on the road a lot,” Sedevie said. “We’ve played 21 games and only seven at home. We’ve proven we can win on the road in tough buildings, we have to take care of business when we play at home.”
The Bobcats wasted little time getting on the scoreboard.
Walinski notched his eighth goal of the season, finishing on a breakaway 1:25 into the contest. Walinski, who had two goals in Friday night’s 9-0 victory, was assisted on the goal by Alex Pollock. Pollock had a four-point game – including three assists – the previous night.
The early lead helped take some pressure off of Kelly, who was making his third appearance with the Bobcats. He stopped 27 of 28 shots he faced from Brookings to pick up the win.
“He’s big. I thought he was quiet, thought he tracked pucks really well and when you do that and put all that together, it’s good,” Sedevie said. “There’s a lot of talent there. He’s been very good since we got him from Fargo and he really gives us a 1-2 punch because at the end of the day you can’t expect your starting goaltender to play 60 games.”
“I was seeing every puck, screens weren’t really a problem, so that made it easy,” Kelly said.
The defense helped out in front of him, blocking shots and clearing away pucks.
“Especially at the end there, a couple of big blocks,” Kelly said. “We locked down completely after the second-period goal. The last seven minutes were just all defensive plays, getting it deep and winning puck battles.”
Brookings had to go to the bench for Jack Caruso in goal early after starter George McBey had to exit at 5:37 of the opening period. Bismarck’s Austin Jouppi and a Blizzard defender collided with McBey in front of the net, and he hit his head on the ice, sending him to the locker room for observation. Jouppi was called for interference on the play.
The Bobcats killed off the penalty, and even had a couple of good shorthanded chances.
Each team killed off a penalty in the first period, which ended with Bismarck outshooting Brookings 11-6 and leading 1-0.
Kelly made five saves over the first 20 minutes. Caruso stopped all eight shots he faced in the period. McBey stopped two of three shots he saw before exiting.
The Bobcats got off to a slower start in the second period – going more than four minutes before getting their first shot on goal.
But Andy Stoneman jump started things, picking up a Blizzard turnover and starting a breakaway, skating into the zone on Caruso and dropping the puck back to Jouppi, who rocketed the puck into the net at 4:51 for his third goal of the season and a 2-0 Bobcats lead.
Sam Antenucci got the Blizzard on the scoreboard at 9:47, redirecting a Shane Hathaway shot past Kelly to give Brookings its first goal of the weekend, pulling the Blizzard within a goal at 2-1.
Bismarck regained a two-goal cushion when Ryan Taylor scored his fifth goal of the season, assisted by Kirkan Irey and Tim Piechowski, at 14:37 by cashing in on a rebound.
Irey’s empty-net goal with 3.4 seconds remaining in the game iced the win, coming after a strong defensive finish in which Kelly made 12 third-period saves and the defense came up with several blocks and cleared the puck repeatedly after the Blizzard pulled Caruso for an extra attacker in the closing minutes.
“I don’t think it was 60 minutes but you look at the sacrifice from some of the new guys we had at the end blocking shots and that’s just character. It’s got to be contagious and I’m proud of our guys,” Sedevie said. “We had some leadership, some character in there and we just found a way to get our two points.”
Caruso finished with 19 saves for (3-17-2).
The Bobcats and Blizzard will square off again next weekend in Brookings.