Bismarck's surge into the NAHL's Robertson Cup playoffs didn't last a week or two, or even a month.
The Bobcats' stellar play began Feb. 2 and never stopped. Tenuously on the postseason bubble midway through the season, Bismarck surged toward the top of the Central Division standings, ending up just two points behind Minot for the No. 2 seed. Tonight, the two rivals meet at Maysa Arena in game 1 of the best-of-five-series. Game 2 is Saturday night. The series shifts to Bismarck April 19. Game 4 would be Saturday, April 20, if necessary. Game 5 would be back in Minot April 22.
"We had our ups and downs throughout the course of the season, but if you look at it, we played really well for the last two-and-a-half months," Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie said. "I think the biggest thing that stands out is that we're playing well as a group. Any team that makes the playoffs, and ultimately has success in the playoffs, has to be doing it as a group."
The first frame of the regular-season highlight reel was the Bobcats' team record-tying streak of getting points in 16 straight games. They did not lose in regulation for nearly two calendar months.
"To have a streak like that for any team is a big deal. It's an accomplishment this team will always have," Sedevie said. "What I like is that I don't think they're satisfied with that. We want to play well and win in the playoffs. That's where our entire focus is right now."
Just as impressive as the 16-game streak is the Bobcats' play against Central Division powerhouse Aberdeen, which topped the division with 97 points. The Bobcats went 5-7-2 against the Wings during the regular-season. The Wings were 36-5-2 against everybody else.
While Minot has the overall head-to-head advantage on the season (7-5), the series is an absolute tossup. Two of the Minotauro wins came in overtime and another in a shootout. In the 12 games, the Bobcats held a plus-1 advantage in goals (33-32).
There are few, if any, surprises in the offing.
"You watch video, try to find a few things maybe you didn't see, but there isn't going to be much. There aren't any secrets," Sedevie said. "What's more important is playing the right style, the right type of game.
"You play six months to be in this position. The playoffs are a different level. It's a different environment. You just can't afford to make mistakes."
Sedevie also said, "Your stars have to be stars."
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For the Bobcats, that's goalie John Roberts, forward Adam Stacho and defenseman Sam Malinski.
Roberts, a Northern Michigan commit, heads into the postseason with a 2.40 goals-against average and 92.5 save percentage.
"We haven't allowed many goals," Sedevie said. "Johnny's a huge part of that it. He's a class goalie, no question about it.
Malinski, headed to Cornell, has played in all but one game, fortifying his status as one of the top blue-liners in the NAHL. He's also dangerous coming up ice. on the attack, he's piled up 14 goals and 31 assists, good for second-most points on the team.
Only Stacho has more. Despite missing 12 games due to injury, the American International College recruit is averaging over one point per contest, leading the Bobcats in assists (31) and second in goals (17).
The standout trio has had plenty of help, though.
Daniel Chladek owns 19 goals in just 42 games. Austin Jouppi (14 goals), Alex Pollock (13), Ryan Taylor (12), Tim Piechowski (12), Andy Stoneman (11) and Jacob Marti (10) are all in double figures.
"We've been scoring by committee. That's been a formula that has worked for us," Sedevie said. "Hopefully, it continues."
Minot squeaked into the playoffs last season but then caught fire, eventually coming within two goals of a Robertson Cup championship. Heading into game 1 on Friday night, the Bobcats appear capable of something similar.
"To me, I feel like we're playing as good as any team in the league," Sedevie said. "But it kind of all starts over now. From here on out it comes down to who plays the best."