The key to understanding Tuesday night's boys hockey game between Century and Bismarck High at the VFW Sports Center lies in the penalty line for both teams. That, and what the teams did with them.
Bismarck took nine penalties, including a major penalty with a 10-minute misconduct tacked on for good measure. Century took five penalties, including a major penalty in the second.
With their three power play opportunities, the Demons scored three times. With their six power plays, including two different sessions of 5-on-3 play, Century did not score. And the final line of 5-1 Bismarck makes it pretty clear that was the difference.
"We have to play clean hockey, play physical and understand what we need to do to take legal, safe hits," Bismarck head coach Wes Carr said. "We need to clean that up.
"We're not going to get every call, we got to suck it up and keep finding a way. We had penalties tonight where we just had to get the puck out of the zone."
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It was not necessarily immediately clear that the game between the two bitter rivals would turn into such a knock-down, drag-out. While a penalty was awarded within the first two minutes after the puck dropped, a goal was scored before any more penalties were called.
Bismarck granted themselves the first and only lead of the game, with Hunter Acker beating first period Century goalie Casey Odegaard cleanly from the point with a shot through traffic.
"Defensively, we took a few lapses and took a few bad penalties that resulted in goals in the second and third," Century coach Troy Olson said. "We had some chances to score, especially early in the game, but we don't always play the right way in front of the net, we don't take the goalie's eyes away and it's hard to score unless you do that."
The action after Acker's goal was where things took a turn for the chippy. Braden Wolf of the Demons, who had actually been assessed the game-opening penalty as well, laid an ill-advised hit on a Century player and was assessed not only a major penalty, but a 10-minute misconduct charge too.
Carr's squad was less than halfway through killing the major penalty when they shot themselves in the foot by getting called for a cross-check, putting Century on a full two-minute 5-on-3 situation.
Despite the difficult position that the Demons put themselves in, a combination of timely saves from Bismarck goalie Carter Schafer (not to mention a lucky clear of a puck sitting in the goalie crease behind Schafer by a teammate) and solid penalty killing put the game back on even footing.
"We should have taken advantage of more of the power plays we had," Olson said. "We just don't seem to play tough enough in front of the net. Our net-front presence and composure is keeping us from scoring goals, and we're averaging about one and a half (goals) a game, which isn't enough to get you in the win column."
Two consecutive coincidental penalties were assessed to both teams, as play continued on its chippy way through the first period. It was after the second of the coincidental minor calls that Bismarck made it 2-0.
A shot by Gavin Rader from the point made it through to Odegaard, who had a chance to make a save, only for the puck to somehow sneak through him.
That was enough for Olson, who pulled Odegaard and inserted Kaden Jangula to take the net-minding duties in the second period for Century.
"I didn't really plan on (switching goalies between every period)," Olson said. "But as the game was going, I thought all three of our senior goalies deserved a chance to play."
Where Century failed to take advantage of its major penalty, Bismarck did not miss. Despite being down captain and power-play quarterback Brady Korsmo with a broken wrist suffered against Dickinson, the Demons scored twice on the checking from behind penalty taken by Maxon Vig of the Patriots.
Owen Haase was first to cross the goal line, as he shot a puck from the right circle that hit Jangula in the glove, popped out, and flipped into the net. Dawson Lentz made it 4-0 Demons on a shot that came after a scramble in front of Jangula Century had tried to clear but landed on the sophomore's stick and he took a shot that hit twine.
"We scored three goals tonight (on the power play), but I'm not really satisfied with how we played it," Carr said. "Our philosophy is hard work on the power play, and I don't feel like we worked that hard on it, and I think we need more work on it.
"With the loss of Brady Korsmo, he's usually the guy who helps captains our power play, so we're waiting for someone to step up on the power play into the role that Brady filled this year on the power play."
Bismarck did have another power play opportunity in the second period, and it did cause a little drama.
A breakaway attempt by Acker was foiled by the Patriots defense, after which Acker took out his apparent frustration at not scoring by nearly slew-footing Jangula in the Patriots net behind the play.
"We try to check with a purpose, and that purpose is to separate a guy from the puck," Olson said. "When you're playing a team that's beating you in physicality, you have to step up and match the intensity level, and I don't know that we did that."
After killing its second and final penalty of the period, Century did have a couple of chances in the Bismarck defensive end. Schafer and his teammates stood strong, though, and headed into the final period up 4-0.
"Carter has played awesome all season long," Carr said. "Big kudos to him, he came into the season wanting the starting job and he's taken it and run with it. He's playing at a high level and there's not much more we can ask of him."
Century was presented a golden opportunity in the final frame, as the Demons again were called for multiple penalties, and the Patriots had 1:40 on the clock to try and score 5-on-3 for the second time.
Olson's squad again was unable to capitalize on the odd-man scenario, though they did manage to make a three-goal game shortly after the expiration of the Bismarck penalty. Vig made up a little for taking the major in the second with a goal he punched home 7:06 into the third period, breaking Schafer's shutout bid.
"Bismarck played fast and physical and played pretty well tonight," Olson said. "If you don't score more than one (goal), it's usually going to be a long night for you."
One last Demon penalty was called less than a minute after Vig's goal, but the Patriots were again unable to break through. Just as the Patriots pulled Luke Pengilly, who had taken over for Jangula at the start of the third period, the Patriots were called for interference, and the Demons made them pay on the penalty kill one last time.
Remington Richardson scored his seventh goal of the year for Bismarck with a screened shot that made it through both a Patriots defensemen and Pengilly to make it 5-1 Bismarck with just over a minute left in the game, and from there the clock counted down to Bismarck's sixth win of the season.
"We kept it simple and played good position hockey," Carr said. "The score said 5-1, and their record doesn't really reflect it, but the Patriots have been a goal away at times in their other games, and they played hard tonight too. Overall, I thought it was a good game for our guys to get back on track."