Bobcats Travel South to Open Division Finals
AUSTIN, MN – For the second straight year, the Bismarck Bobcats will take on the Austin Bruins in the Central Division Finals; unlike last season, the Bobcats will open the 2013 installment of the second-round series in Minnesota as the top-seeded Bruins will host Games One and Two of the best-of-five-game series Friday and Saturday at Riverside Arena.
The Bobcats reached the divisional final round with a three-games-to-none sweep of third-ranked Brookings while the Bruins picked up a pair of road wins last weekend to knock out the number four Minot Minotauros.
“We got an extra day off from sweeping, which turned out to be an extra day of waiting to get [the Division Finals] started,” assessed Bobcats rookie defenseman Chris Diver, who chipped in a pair of assists in the first-round sweep of the Blizzard. “We’ve basically been ready to get out there and start playing since Saturday night.”
All season long, the Bobcats and Bruins played one another evenly, with each squad coming away with a 5-3-2 record against the other and each earning a 3-2-1 record at Riverside and a 2-1-1 mark at the VFW Sports Center. The Bobcats hold a slight edge in goal differential, having outscored the Bruins 39-37 on aggregate in the ten meetings.
Though the season series was compelling all season long, the finale at Riverside on March 23 provided the most drama: the Bobcats rallied for four unanswered goals in the third period and overtime, with three coming while the Bruins served a five-minute major on top scorer Brandon Wahlin, to skate away with a 4-3 road win and wrap up the Central’s second seed.
Bobcat players downplayed the last meeting between the two rivals.
“Right now we’re not thinking at all about [March 23],” stressed first-year forward Evan Giesler, who racked up two goals and three assists during the Central Semifinals after a 17-point rookie campaign. “We are focused on the next game against Austin, not the last one. We have been working on improving all week in practice because they’re going to be the toughest test we’ve seen all year.”
Specialty teams promise to be a focal point of the season, particularly the power plays: the Bruins led the NAHL in regular season power play efficiency at 25.4% and scored 14 more power play goals than any other team league-wide; the Bobcats racked up six PPG in the first round and enter the weekend with the top playoff power play rating at 40.0%.
With so much focus on the power play, penalty killing will take center stage in the series.
“Our ‘PK’ is going to have to be sharp, no question,” offered Bobcats assistant coach Garrett Roth, “because we know how strong Austin is on the power play with all the offensive talent they have. We need to be able to block shots without screening our own goalie, something [the Bruins] have taken advantage of against us this year.”
Game One is scheduled for a 7:05 PM start Friday at Riverside Arena. Game Two will follow at the same time Saturday.
Friday’s series opener will be broadcast locally on the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, Super Talk 1270, KLXX-AM, and worldwide on the official internet television partner of the NAHL, FASTHockey, at http://nahl.fasthockey.com. Pregame coverage gets under way at 6:40 PM.