Matej Murin’s hat trick helped the Bismarck Bobcats pick up their first home-ice win of the season on Friday night.
Murin, who hadn’t tallied a goal over the first eight games of the season, had a breakout game as the Bobcats defeated the Kenai River Brown Bears 3-2 in the opening game of a weekend NAHL series at the VFW Sports Center.
The second-year Bobcat from Martin, Slovakia, scored all three Bismarck goals, giving him seven points on the season.
“I just decided, today I’ll try to shoot the puck more,” Murin said. “I had more shots at the net, and it paid off.”
“He was really good,” Bobcats coach Layne Sedevie said. “That line was by far our best line. They worked. They’re all veterans so you kind of expect that – I know it’s only game 9, but you expect your veterans to kind of lead the way early on in the season. That line was great, and obviously Matej – any time you can get three in one game, it’s pretty special.”
The Bobcats struck first, late in what was shaping up to be a scoreless first period.
Murin blasted a laser from the high slot past Brown Bears goalie Artur Pavlikov at 18:18 of the first period, giving the home team a lead at the end of a tightly-contested first 20 minutes. Jared Resseguie picked up his second assist of the season to set up the play, a line-drive from 30 feet.
Those two had teamed up on the game-winning goal on Saturday at the Minnesota Wilderness, with Murin assisting on Resseguie’s OT goal in a 3-2 victory.
The momentum from last week may have carried over to Friday’s game, Sedevie said.
“That win – we needed that win in overtime pretty badly,” he said. “I thought we played pretty well and we just maybe haven’t had some bounces you know and sometimes that confidence gets a little momentum going. A big part of this game is momentum, so I think that carried over.”
The line wasted little time in the second period. Murin scored at 0:41, off assists from Michael Mahan and Resseguie, to make it 2-0 Bismarck.
“I really like those guys,” Murin said. “It’s a pleasure to play with them and if it was not for them I would not have scored three goals, obviously.”
“Anytime you can score late in the period, early in the period, those are goals you never want to give up,” Sedevie said.
Kenai River, which came into the game with the NAHL’s top power play, used the man advantage to pull within a goal midway through the second. Gil Garcia scored on a rebound at 10:38 – the Brown Bears’ league-best 16th power-play tally.
The Bobcats, who have struggled mightily on the man advantage, with one power-play tally in 34 opportunities through eight games, had a couple of golden opportunities, but couldn’t cash in on an Emils Ezitis hooking penalty a few minutes later.
“I thought we were pretty good tonight, actually,” Sedevie said. “We had quite a few chances so if we get those chances, we’ll be fine. I think we hit three pipes tonight and sometimes they don’t go your way but when you keep getting those looks, we keep putting those guys in those situations, they’re going to find the back of the net.”
But just after the power play expired, the Bobcats regained the momentum as Murin scored off an assist by Resseguie on a breakaway at 15:59 for a 3-1 lead.
Kenai River caught a break in the third period to pull within a goal again. Michael Spethmann picked up a puck outside the Bobcats zone and was sprung on a breakaway when the Bobcat defender was screened by a linesman, and Spethmann scored at 3:43 to make it 3-2.
But the Bobcats and goaltender Ryan Ullan held off the Brown Bears down the stretch – killing off a power play midway through the final period and withstanding a 6-on-5 in the final 54 seconds after Kenai River pulled the goalie for one final push.
“I thought he was pretty good all night,” Sedevie said of Ullan – who finished with 30 saves, 14 in the third period. “We got an unfortunate bounce with the linesman there on the second goal but what do you do? Sometimes you really have to stay focused as a goaltender. I thought he did a nice job of that. I thought he was sharp all night.”
Pavlukov stopped 20 of 23 shots he faced in net for Kenai River. Gavin Enright, who took over after the Bobcats’ final goal, stopped all 11 shots he faced.
Sedevie was happy to pick up the win and two big points early in the season.
“This team needs to learn to play with a lead,” he said. “That’s something that we haven’t necessarily done well. The nice thing tonight was we found a way to get two points. Whether it’s in our building or on the road, that’s something we have to learn how to do.”
The Bobcats (4-5-0-0) and Brown Bears (4-5-0-0) square off again tonight at 7:15 p.m.