It’s no secret that the Bismarck Bobcats have struggled so far this season. Their 14 wins entering Thursday night’s matchup against the Minot Minotauros have them last place in the Central Division, but the Bobcats certainly aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.
Mitch Walinski notched a pair of goals, Severi Iskanjos made 29 saves in his first start in Bismarck and the Bobcats downed the Minotauros 4-2 at the VFW Sports Center.
“It’s been awhile since we have put back-to-back efforts together, that’s for sure,” Bismarck coach Layne Sedevie said. “I’m pretty happy about that and then obviously the magnitude of this game, where we are in the standings and where they are. It’s not an easy grind here for us, but it’s nice to get the first two [of this home stand].”
The Bobcats may have found something in Walinski, the recently acquired forward who previously played for the Minnesota Wilderness. Walinski, who scored just two goals in 16 appearances with the Wilderness, matched that total during the first period alone against Minot.
Walinski put the Bobcats on the board early during the first period on a shot that ricocheted off starting Minotauros goaltender Lucas Murray. Sitting on the rebound, Walinski fired the deflected Matej Murin shot into the net to set off the horn and open up a 1-0 lead for Bismarck.
Austin Dollimer tied the game up for Minot midway through the period, but Walinski responded with another goal rebounded off Murray’s pads. Tobias Fladeby inadvertently set the play up with a shot the Minotauros goaltender couldn’t catch cleanly. The puck came off Murray’s pads and Walinski came slashing in to clean up the loose change.
“[Walinksi] is a headsy hockey player, he’s got good hockey sense and he can really shoot a puck too,” Sedevie said. “He’s a guy who we acquired in a trade, and I think he’s got a bright future. He’s a very good hockey player, and he was really good tonight.”
The Bobcats picked up right where they left off roughly seven minutes into the second period, as Fladeby scored a highlight-reel goal off a pass from Tanner Breidenbach. Walinski, once again, carried the puck into the zone and maintained control of the puck despite being knocked to the ice to set up the play.
Jiei Halliday found Breidenbach who sent a cross-ice pass over to Fladeby, and the Bobcats’ leading goal-scorer notched No. 16 on the year with a beautiful wrist shot that sailed past Murray.
Cooper Haar, who assisted on the first Walinski goal, scored his third goal of the season shortly after, which signaled the end of Murray’s night in net. Minot struck back with a goal by Derek Frentz, sending the Bobcats into the locker room up 4-2 on the scoreboard.
Tyler Jeanson scored late during the third period for the Minotauros, but Iskanjos held strong, making a number of key saves down the stretch in his Bobcats debut.
Bismarck moved to 15-18-1 on the season, defeating Minot for the first time since mid-December after the Minotauros swept the Bobcats in a three-game set to close out last month. The victory in itself won’t propel Bismarck into the postseason, but it’s certainly a nice building block.
“We have taken two steps in the right direction,” Sedevie said. “We needed something to turn the season around. We got three goals during the third period against the Wilderness to get two huge points last weekend. The nice part is that we showed up tonight and piggybacked that performance against a really good hockey team.
“Hopefully we can keep taking steps in the right direction.”