Ah, those rivalry games. Bismarck Bobcats forward Tim Piechowski loves them.
“Oh, lord, yes. … These are just awesome to play,” he said after the Bobcats took the measure of Minot in a North American Hockey League showdown on Friday night at the VFW Sports Center.
Piechowski was in the thick of things as the two archrivals battled for the first time this season. Piechowski, who entered the game with four points, reaped two goals and an assist against the Minotauros.
Bobcats general manager and head coach Layne Sedevie said there’s no doubt the Minot-Bismarck games are something special.
“They ended our seson last year, and I don’t think our guys are too happy about that. … I’m just glad our guys were ready to play,” he noted.
Bismarck clearly came ready to play, skating a step ahead of the Minotauros for the full 20 minutes. The Bobcat dominance was rewarded by two goals and two other close calls that were turned away by Minot goaltender Ben Garrity.
Austin Schwartz got the Bobcats on the scoreboard first, scoring from close range after receiving a pass from Piechowski, who was situated behind the goal line at the right post.
Will Hillman notched his 13th goal of the season a little over four minutes later, making a steal at the right point and dashing in alone on Garrity. Hillman’s low shot first went off Garrity’s leg pads and trickled into the net near the left post.
The Bobcats had a huge territorial edge in the opening session while opening a 12-6 advantage in shots on net.
Piechowski gave Bismarck a 3-0 lead early in the second period, taking a nifty aerial up-ice pass floated by Willy Stauber, splitting two defenders and beating Garrity with 5:12 elapsed.
Minot broke through against Bobcats goalie Andrew Miller at 11:49 of the second period. Joseph Harguindeguy lit the lamp on a low screened shot from the top of the left circle that slipped through Miller’s legs.
Minot didn’t just phone in the final 20 minutes.
Nikolai Charchenko made it a one-goal contest with 12:28 to play, taking a nifty pass from Kevin Ness, who was charging hard down the right wing, and finding the net.
Bismarck had a response, two of them, in fact.
With the teams playing four-on-four, Piechowski took a long up-ice pass from Jack Olsen at the Minot blue line for a breakaway. He fired high over Garrity’s left shoulder with 4:52 to play to make it 4-2. Dawson Klein closed the evening’s scoring with 2:41 to play, pounding in a slapshot from the left circle on a Bobcats power play.
Piechowski said winning is sweet, doubly so against Minot.
“We’ve got a lot of returners. (Minot) swept us last year in the playoffs and we haven’t forgotten that,” he said. “That’s not going to happen this year.”
Piechowski said losing never entered his mind when Minot closed the gap to 3-2 on Charchenko’s goal.
“We didn’t let that affect us. We just kept on playing hard. … We’re not going to hope to win, we’re going to win.”
The Bobcats entered the game with a one-point lead over Minot in the Central Division standings. Friday’s win gives Bismarck 22 points to Minot’s 19.
Sedevie said the Bobcats’ first-period effort may have been their first 20 minutes of the season.
“I think we played the way we can (in the first period),” he said. “We outworked them. … When we do that we’re going to be tough to beat. That set the tone early.”
The only blemish on the evening was a dustup right after the game’s conclusion that resulted in 79 minutes of penalties. Minot was dealt two game misconducts, a fighting major and a roughing minor. The Bobcats picked up a game misconduct, two majors and a bench penalty minor.
Tonight the teams do it all over again in Minot. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m.